A Selection of Albert's posts
from the AskAlbert Forum
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I think perhaps we have to agree to disagree about cultures.
For me, as for you, the dominant sectors of people in society -- having that position by virtue of the roles they fill in critical social institutions -- have a tremendous impact on the contours of belief and even celebration and taste, throughout society. So too, in fact, do those roles and institutions, for both elites and everyone else.
This applies not only to the economy and the ruling class, but to other spheres of life as well, I think, and no less so.
But, given the above, it is also true that this is not a 100% straight jacket in which everyone moves lockstep to norms set down in structures or by rulers. Quite the contrary. Even within the powerful constraints, there is considerable room for leeway and self definition. That doesn't mean the system is good, just that it isn't all encompassing.
One of the things that human groups produce, partly within the constraints imposed by elites and, even more so, powerful institutions like markets, etc., is cultures -- ways of seeing oneself and one's commuunity in society and in "the cosmos," ways of celebrating, talking, and so on.
That these cultures are compromised, relative to what they would be in truly liberated conditions, is certainly quite true. But that doesn't mean that there is nothing of value, nothing that people themselves, from all backgrounds, desire and rightfully want to defend and develop.
>>So, are you saing that culture is only something imposed from above on >>people, limiting them? Well, not only, but mostly. Not only limiting them, but also promoting them to obey effectivly to the system.
This is only a part of culture -- by and large not the part that is indigenous to various communities themselves, for that matter. And it is a way of looking at culture that leaves one only disparaging what human communities that are supposed to be agents of change, and thus allies to you and vice versa, most celebrate and appreciate. I tink in those ways it is a counter productive stance, even though it embodies a part of a more complex truth.
>>Is none of the "cultural difference" between Korea and Japan and France and Mexico and Protestant and Catholic and Jewish and Eskimo and so on, self chosen and positive? Yes, it is self chosen by the ruling class, also affected by the near by rulers.
Well, again we just disagree, which is fine, of course.
>>In the absense of oppression, or most oppression, anyhow, would there be one culture, or many cultures?Yes, there is definitely cultural similarity between under fascist in italy, under nazi in germany, under emperor in japan during WWII, under extreme right military regime in many country including south korea.
I think you are answering a different question than I asked, perhaps. Suppose sometime in the future, the world has transcended class, race, gender, and political oppression to attain a condition of real equity, solidarity, diversity, and self mangement.
In such a condition, do you think that one true right ideal culture emerges, or do you think that there are many many cultures, each with different attributes?
Historically, in the past, and for marxism by and large, for example, the answer has been that there would be one true culture. I think this has been one among many problems with these approaches to change.
>>Where TV can be powerful is in playing a humanizing role. It takes many words to convey the same visceral feeling that arises in, say, seeing some thugish military or police force smash people over the head with clubs. For example, think back to the footage of civil rights protestors during the '60's being visciously attacked by white troopers and their police dogs, etc.. Documentaries and news programs that humanize people, and most importantly (and what is most lacking in most documentaries of this nature) connect offensive policies with our own government, politicians, leaders, wealthy elites and military industrial complex can be a very valuable educational tool, in my >opinion.
I don't disagree in principle. Show it to an audience on a screen, or on a vcr to folks invited over for the purpose and to talk, and it could be wonderful, sure. And that is within our means.
What I doubt is how much affect efforts broadcast on cable stations can have for people who are just channel surfing in their usual manner. New people not already attuned. If it doesn't cost too much, ok. But if it starts soaking up really big bucks, then I doubt it is worth it.
Yes, if we had a whole network with a full palette of programming, sure, but then we would have won....
Given finances, I think we are talking about spending a whole lot and having just maybe a bit of cable .... and that's what seems to me not so worth it.
>>Whether the medium is distributed via video cassettes or via TV is debatable but the humanizing connection that people can make to others and the piqued curiosity resulting from the connection about how this is all related to their own lives, the functioning of our own society leads me to conclude that TV can be an extremely powerful and valuable >tool. Of course it can also be used to distort, distract and dehumanize, as is the case today.
The issue I am addressing is whether, given the barriers to entry and the habits folks have and their expectations, tv can be good for us in the forseeable future. Maybe, but I just think it isn't too likely.
But then that shouldn't surprise anyone, given that I focus on print media, talks, radio, and now the Internet.
VCR videos is another matter, however. As is some kind of internet video,perhaps, in a couple of years or say four or five...depending how things break. These options would both be much more affordable, and I think the venue is more conducive to even radical education.... I am myself trying to get us into a position to be able to do this type stuff.
If someone had $100 million dollars and told me they were going to try to create a cable channel, and that really isn't near enough in any event, I believe, and they were quite political so that the alternative would be the best other stuff that might be done....I would be very sorry at the choice fearing that it would lead to little, or perhaps nothing, after all the pressures and dynamics played out.
>>As to the costs of providing internet content going up, you named two items, liscensing costs and costs for bandwidth. Could you explain these? The latter has to do with laws to be passed I assume? (some details if you have any?) And the former wouldn't apply to "us" if what >we want to run are things like Alternative Radio, Michael Parenti, Chomsky, Nader, etc talks, as opposed to 90210, right?
Yes, I am only guessing. I assume that the decision makers, in all their forms, will if they haven't already, understand that as with radio and tv the value of the internet to them, and its potential danger for them, drop dramatically if access to content costs very little, or nothing, but making content available is, for one reason or another, quite costly. Yoiu want to remove clutter so paid ads are highly visible. And you want to prevent "misuse" of media, that is, actual democratic participation in creation rather than consumption.
It seems to me that the way to do this is to have huge bandwidth entering people's homes, adequate for the whole sears catalog, video ads, etc., and very small bandwidth, adequate essentially for email and requests for content, and especially commercial purchase orders, leaving people's homes.
You make that free, or nearly so. So every potential consumer (not those who are effectively broke, but everyone else) can be online. Like tv and radio.
But on the provision side, you have to up the ante quite a bit. How? Well, one way is to make the cost of the actual production of content very high. This can only be done by setting standards that can't be attained without huge outlays. This is a difference between mainstream tv and cable access...programming, I suppose.
But more critical because more effective, you charge for something that one must have to produce, perhaps depending on the scale of the audience. Thus, you charge liscensing fees, or bandwidth fees.
As to what ZNet would need. In this scenario we could need a lisense for various practices...and bandwidth as well. Suppose we want to provide audio, much less video, and we are trying to develop a site that will involve tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, or a million or more users -- regularly. Well, yes, there is a lot of bandwidth involved at our end to handle so much simultaneous use of our servers.
It is all conjecture -- largely unchanged from what I wrote a couple of years ago -- except that now we see it beginning to come into reality with cable access that is wide to home but thin from, satellite access that is humongous to homes but nil back, and so on.
John Krumm wrote in article ...
>>This thread may be a bit of a stretch for social strategy, but oh well. I just listned to a Nasa scientist spend an hour on the radio discussing Mars, and he had to answer a couple questions probing at why he thinks space research is good for the average Joe. Spin-off technology, he said. Much of what we take for granted today wouldn't exist without the space program.
With you, I think this is idiotic and that it only strikes a chord at all because of how authoritatively people argue it. The most efficient way to generate a new material for frying pans, if we even want that, is not to try to put a rocket on mars.
Undirected research is likely to have high pay offs, I think...but that is something very different than a massive program such as space exploration.
However, the NASA scientist was just intimidated, wrongly, I think.
When asked by a General years back how research into particle reactions via large scale projects like accelerators, etc., was going to aid in the defense of civilization, some physicist, I forget who it was, answered far more honestly than the NASA scientist that he felt it would do nothing to aid in defense of civilization, but that he thought the program would contribute to what makes civilization worth defending.
The Space Program, insofar as it is a space program and serious research project, etc., is worth having because it advances human knowledge and fulfills human curiousity.
>.But most people would agree that spin-off can occur from any research, not just research with big rockets, so wouldn't research into real, down-to-earth needs produce both beneficial spin-off AND beneficial results? The old two birds and one stone, by golly.
I would say that this is actually true for space research -- beneficial spin-offs (pretty marginal) and beneficial product (the true motivation).
>So what does this have to do with social strategy? Only that I think the above argument makes sense and can strike a chord with a good percentage of the population, especially when used to criticize defense spending. Spin-off from defense is even worse, becasue we don't get pretty pictures in the process. We pay someone to produce a tank, then bury it, and say wow, look at the new synthetic rubber we developed for that gasket. Very efficient research. So, down with inefficient research!
In this case, defense spending, inefficient research and horrible product.
>>The Space Program, insofar as it is a space program and serious research project, etc., is worth having because it advances human knowledge and fulfills human curiousity.
>I agree with you up until this point. I think the space program , the serious parts included, fulfills the curiousity of a very select group of humans. In fact, I'll venture that the serious parts seem even less worthy than the spectacular parts to many people.
Well, this was true for every intellectual advance ever, almost by definition, wasn't it? Still, it seems to me that enrichment of human knowledge is a noble pursuit...on virtually every front. The Hubble telescope is a remarkable achievement with wondrous impact on knowledge, I believe. Would I spend a large fraction of the global product to try to expand knowledge of some domain that requires equipment that expensive. No, of course not. But in discussing current real research, real investigation of natural and organic phenomena, etc., we are talking about I think, a tiny fraction of that type expenditure.
>Do you think a parecon society would have a space program? I think is would be so hard to justify that space research would be limited to backyard star-gazing, at least for a while.
I think it would, yes. I doubt, in fact, that the amount of resources and labors devoted to all kinds of research would drop, in toto, at all...more likely rise, pretty substantially, I would think. Because I think that the amount of resources and labors freed from elimination of other truely worthless pursuits (defense), or counter-productive pursuits (product duplication, advertising manipulation, pollution creation and removal, repression of deprived constituencies, defense of advantage, drug trafficing, etc. and from the use of new potentials (full employment, full training, etc.),. would be so stupendous that there would be plenty of productivity to improve people's immediate material and social well being, as well as to extend and expand human knowledge, even in realms where the only pay-off is likely to be insight.
But, the key point is we will all have a comparable say in investment decisions like this -- or all those living will, anyhow.
On Modes of remuneration, revolution, etc.
>>I guess there are two answers to this question. The first answer is the moral one, and there are plenty of good approximations for this, and I'm not sure which one I prefer. I guess the simplest answer would be to steal the parecon formula of effort and undesirability/danger etc of work. I think there are some also some good practical arguments for including output as a minor factor, although for increases in wage only. I would certainly not like to see output as a reason for dropping anyone below what I consider a "decent" social wage. On the other hand, I guess you might legitimately reiterate your earlier point about all wages representing a relative share, and I would agree. So output needs to be at best a very small factor, and is perhaps best recognized as worthy, rather than remunerated. That's the moral answer, IMO.
I like your answer, effort and sacrifice with output being recognized as worthy... How much should Michael Jordan earn? He is probably underpaid -- I really mean that -- if the standard is we are to be paid in proportion to our contribution to society's product. Should Mozart's heirs own Nebraska? By your answers we get sensible moral responses to these questions, and endless others we might ask. With output norms, we get injustice.
>>The second answer is the practical one. I personally fear that the initial implementation of such a system would be an extremely turbulent and >nasty event, even if the system could eventually work, which I consider far from proven.
You could be saying two things here -- We have had an immoral system so long that its roots are so deep that change will be very difficult. This much is certainly true, but then you also should say who it is that would find this change in remuneration (and other features) so upsetting...I think. Or you could be saying that while our current remuneration is morally despicable, it is somehow required by our genes or some other incontrovertible fact of existence. Which is it? Or do you have another worry/view?
>>I'm not a great fan of drastic social upheaval, except in a situation where people are actually being killed at a fairly high rate, rather than exploited.
Well, people ARE being killed, and at a humongous rate that dwarfs what anyone could plausibly do with guns short of immense war. A reasonable estimate is that 50 million a year die unnecessarily for want of food, medicine, etc. That, to me, is murder. That it is done by an economic system, not a club or gun (thought there is plenty of that as well) doesn't seem to me to change if from murder...
>>So I believe that you can start with gradual changes, looking at the effects as you go.
In the real world, you can start with what you can start with. I mean that seriously. You try for improvements that move in a certain direction -- assuming you have longer term aims at all. You get more or less of what you are seeking depending on a great many variables. One thing we most certainly do not have to be even a tiny bit worried about just now -- this is the practical part of your response -- is getting too much too fast.
>>And even stopping the current trend towards inequity in distribution of wealth would be a huge change. To me the most worrying trend in society is this steady increase in the concentration of wealth in the hands of a privileged few.
This is horrible, indeed, and any movement operating now -- aiming toward anything remotely just in the future, would, as part of its immediate program, be trying to address this.
>>Apart from the inequity of it, I wonder how long it can continue before you have drastic social upheaval just caused by inequality. I think to some extent in the US, you already seeing such upheaval at the edges.
It is far more than the edges... Life in large sectors of the U.S. is rather like being in a kind of war--including daily helicopter flights over head, armed occupying forces that are totally hostile, barriers to exit, and so on.
>>So my second answer is to move towards the first answer at the fastest rate which is consistent with the lowest level of social upheaval and pain.
Lowest level for whom? What kinds of upheaval and pain do you have in mind? Suppose the AFL-CIO started to get really effective, growing, becoming more radical, etc. Suppose it challenged to win high minimum wages laws, vastly increased profit taxes, full employment norms, and so on and so forth -- suppose it even won income ceilings for all citizens (say $100,000 max or something, with EVERYTHING above that taxed, and 100% inheritance taxes, and so on and so forth... And suppose it began reassessing workplaces, demanding changes in on the job rules and norms of decision making, and eventually even in the definition of work. This would be, as you say, a lot of tumult. So?
>>I'm not convinced that in time a situation can't be reached where less privileged classes, through political muscle, have a sufficient share of the resources to the point where a modified form of capitalism is only mildly objectionable.
Everything about the history of capitalism shows that its dynamic is one of increasing inequality and centralization of assets and power. Nothing complies with what you are indicating... The demise of Social Democracy throughout Scandinavia is a case in point, among many. But, as well, I think you are looking at only a few indices. Suppose we had a much less extreme distribution of income, etc., which is what you are talking about attaining, and which would certainly be good to attain. Why should we stop at that? Why should we continue to produce for profit rather than use and fulfillment? Having reduced the amount of the social product going to people by virtue of their having ownership deeds in their pockets, why not keep reducing it? Why should we have our lives at work be, not just undemocratic but subject to totalitarian rule? And so on. Having made some progress, why not make more -- even if it wasn't the case, as history indicates that it is, that any progress within capitalism is temporary and once efforts to expand it are removed, the progress will be taken back by self-serving changes imposed by capital.
>>And at that point you'd have to ask yourself whether a move to an alternative planning structure, be it centralized or within local committees would be worth the risk that it might not work.
What does not work mean? What we have doesn't work at all, in a human sense, but works quite well to attain the ends it is seeking, profit and power maintained for elites. The same could be said for the coordinator economies of the Soviet Union and East Europe. They too were reaching what they were seeking. This will be true of parecon, as well... The idea that to establish an economy that is equitable, diverse, solidaritous, and self managing in the very definition of its institutions and their roles is somehow remotely unlikely to work better at attaining those ends (that is, at benefiting its whole populace rather than mostly a ruling class) than economy that is set up, in the first place, to not work from the point of view of most citizens but only elites, is hard for me to grok...
>>I guess this is probably where you tell me that even reversing the current trend would require serious social upheaval, and I reply that i'm terrified that you are probably right.
What are you terrified of, I wonder...literally? Our system, capitalism plus various other social structures in other spheres of life, currently creates a life dominated by absolutely excruciating poverty and, to defend it, death squads and dictatorship, throughout large portions of the globe. Even here in the "belly of the beast" as the old saying goes, large proportions of the populace also suffer horribly stunted life options. So what is the turmoil or tumult which is terrifying that would derive from trying to win a new economic system by a series of struggles winning alterations as we go, and so on?
More on transforming society, etc.
>>This is exactly what I am saying. In terms of who would be upset by changes in remuneration, it would be those who have the most to lose, and I couldn't care less. What I would care about is that the "system" which protects entrenched financial interests can turn very nasty indeed. I can envision a situation in which the same levels of force used to protect financial interest (IMO) in Indochina are used internally.
A social process to transform society threatens exactly the elements you indicate. Yes. But depending on how such a process unfolds, there are limits on what those elements, few in number as they ultimately are, can do. Consider the Shah or Iran, for example. Overthrown almost without a shot because of the breadth and depth of opposition, which extended right into the forces he would like to have used for defense, etc.
There is already severe conflict in the U.S. The effort to change to a better society is an effort to develop movements which curtail and impede violence even as they gain changes. The kinds of force used in Vietnam just have no relevance in domestic struggle. You don't defend capital at home by blowing up its infrastructure with B-52s...
But other types of violence are relevant and so at every turn a powerful and effective movement must create a context in which escalating its use of violence is a self-defeating tactic for elites. It will further enlarge opposition, lead to more awareness and organization, etc. Organizing within the police and army, for example, will become exceptionally important, down the road. But this is all off in the future...one hopes.
For now, it makes no sense, in any event, to simply write off prospects for a just and equitable future on the grounds that a tiny elite has a powerful interest in fighting against such gains. We'd still have monarchies and slavery if we followed such logic. One can bend and swerve in tactics later, when it is an issue, if ever. To be grounded by fear, before the fact, is no answer to injustice.
>>Well, people ARE being killed, and at a humongous rate that dwarfs what anyone could plausibly do with guns short of immense war. A reasonable estimate is that 50 million a year die unnecessarily for want of food, medicine, etc. That, to me, is murder. That it is done by an economic system, not a club or gun (thought there is plenty of that as well) doesn't >>seem to me to change if from murder...
>Ok, you have me on this one. I guess my feelings as stated really relate to internal change in the country I live in, Australia. A global view certainly paints a picture of pain that is already universal. Can I ask you this though, If you were to establish a parecon somewhere in the US, say, including the particpation of a whole state (let's not argue about whether this is feasible), and if Rwanda (or any other relatively far poorer small country) was to also establish a parecon economy, what steps would the American parecon take to alleviate the unfair situation where people continued to starve in the poorer parecon?
You want it to be just Arizona, not the U.S.? It is inconceivable, but if it happened, hypothetically, presumably Arizonans would (a) trade on very favorable terms with underdeveloped countries, (b) provide aid and assistance in international relations and directly, etc.
But, that has nothing to do with reality because If there were a parecon in a developed country, the rot would spread (in the words elites would use) very rapidly. The lesson of a good example would topple dominos (that is, other economies) like crazy, not by outreach, but by the hope and emulation they would inspire, overcoming cynicism and fear, etc.
Because of this, your fears are real in this case. That is, The U.S. wouldn't allow a state alone, Arizona, to be a parecon -- assuming it was somehow that far ahead of the rest of the country, an impossibility, I think. But, more to the point, I don't think the U.S., if able, could or would permit Australia, nor even France or Italy, to be a parecon. This would invite serious and fierce intervention... The only impediment would be movements at home, in the U.S., that precluded the intervention.
>>There are some interesting issues involved in this, not the least of which is environmental. I believe there simply aren't the resources for everyone in the world to lead a "western lifestyle". I also doubt that the world could handle the attendent pollution.
Well, these are hard questions to answer, but not to deal with in practice, I think, because parecon allows one to ascertain the reality and then act on it. But in a parecon world I thik there is very good reason to believe that the elimination of waste, of war production, of duplication, etc. and the refining of productive techniques, etc., would be such that all people, I quite believe, could live very well indeed.
>>So I believe that you can start with gradual changes, looking at the effects as you go. In the real world, you can start with what you can start with.
>and I absolutely agree. But what worries me is that if the change were to be relatively sudden, eg a people's movement over the period of say five years, in which at the end it became obvious that a government was going to be overwhelmingly elected which would socialise capital, that the response of entrenched interests would be a level of internal brutality which has previously been saved for nominated external "bad guys". That's really what I fear.
The world doesn't work that quickly, regretably. But if there were some strange process that could so raise consciousness in the U.S. that 60 or 70 percent of the populace was militantly and avowedly in favor of fundamnetal change in, say, five years, you couldn't contain my elation. We could then worry about how to bring it off with minimum violence and disruption -- we should only have that problem in my lifetime, much less five years.
With all due respect, to be worrying now about repression in Australia or the U.S., against dissidents, because they are trying to institute parecon and doing such a good job that elites are really worried, etc., is really, well, out of place. With 50 million a year dying of starvation, to be worried in countries where history and circumtances and institutions and dynamics of motion virtually preclude really large scale violence, which, in any event, could be forestalled by movement's policies, is just, well, ill conceived.
>>>So my second answer is to move towards the first answer at the fastest rate which is consistent with the lowest level of social upheaval and pain.
>>Lowest level for whom? What kinds of upheaval and pain do you have in mind?
>Lowest for _all_ people actually, including the current owners of capital. But the key proviso is that I don't class losing assets as pain, in this scenario. Starving, getting tortured, beaten gassed napalmed or shot are I guess the most obvious examples of what I mean by pain. I do really fear that we would see this happen to ordinary people, perhaps I'm paranoid, but at the end of the day I can't see why the same processes used to justify pattern bombing Vietnamese villages can't be used to justify pattern bombing American, or Australian towns in a more extreme set of circumstances.
Australia, yes, if we don't have movements here to prevent it. The U.S. no, because the prerequisite for doing it is exactly the condition that prevents it, those large movements.
Capitalists are not sadists. They don't kill for pleasure, and didn't in Vietnam. And whole armies don't either. It just doesn't work that way. As to violence hitting ordinary people -- again, that is every day. And the only way to end it, which unless you just don't care about people other than those under the elite umbrella by proximity and acquiesence, is to end the elite systems.
>>Suppose the AFL-CIO started to get really effective, growing, becoming more radical, etc. Suppose it challenged to win high minimum wages laws, vastly increased profit taxes, full employment norms, and so on and so forth -- suppose it even won income ceilings for all citizens (say $100,000 max or something, with EVERYTHING above that taxed, and 100% inheritance taxes, and so on and so forth... And suppose it began reassessing workplaces, demanding changes in on the job rules and norms of decision making, and eventually even in the definition of work. This would be, as you say, a lot of tumult. So?
>Ok, I'm not concerned about that kind of tumult. And the process you describe is similar to the one that I envisaged, ending in a form of market planning which might not bad that many are willing to make a quantum leap to a whole new kind of planning. I think you also made an exellent point (at least I think you are making this point) in suggesting that a change in planning process could be implemented gradually, based on workplace change, and might not have to be a quantum leap at all.
The above scenario is way more than what would cause capitalists to want to intervene by any means necessary. But it would not be possible, without, in fact, hastening their own losses. That is the key calculation.
As to leading to markets or parecon...if it takes property capital is as opposed as they are capable of being. And other strata, more upset by anti-market than anti-private property aims, add little to the violence equation, I think...
>What I do fear though is that even in a fairly gradual process, we might see entrenched interests whip up hysteria to the point where open repression of labour through extremely violent means becomes the norm.
Repression by who. By their actual brothers and sisters in the police, who are themselves being organized and striking? To be honest I don't want to pursue this discussion too much further unless it is going to get beyond fears. I can only offer my opinions regarding those, for you to think on, perhaps. I think fighting for change using the means and capacities at our disposal, as intelligently as we can, is our option, and these discussions are for the future.
>I think we saw an example of a government going down this track in Thatcher's method of dealing with strikes. I fear that Thatcher actually didn't go very far down the spectrum of violence compared to where a government might go when threatened with the probability of real change.
You are simply repeating your fears, I think, but there is no indication of the actual variables that come into play.
>>Everything about the history of capitalism shows that its dynamic is one of increasing inequality and centralization of assets and power. Nothing complies with what you are indicating...
>I don't really agree with this, exactly. I think history shows that organised labour can reverse and contain many of the trends of rampant capitalist greed.
This is why I am having a lot of trouble with the discussion. On the one hand, you say you agree about the aims, but then every so often you say something like the above. If you are against a struggle to change basic relations because you think they are basically okay, then that is what you should say.
>Ten year olds are no longer worked to death in mines for example.
Every gain, such as child labor laws, is a function of struggle against elite interests, often overcoming violent repression -- sometimes at about the levels we could expect in a future process that led all the way to fundamental change of institutions. If folks had had your view about not arousing elites to violence we would, in fact, still have child labor (and we may again, before too long, if labor continues to be quiescent).
>I certainly agree that Capitalism will attempt to centralise assets and power, and believe that we are currently in a generally unrecognised period where the balance is shifting toward centralisation and entrenchment of both wealth and power. That's my fear. But I think that there's no ordained reason why organised labour can't eventually find an equilibrium far from where it is now.
In a system built on the logic of power, when power moves one way or another, so do outcomes. Such a system is always unstable, in both directions. Social Democracy can move left, to a real transformation of societal relations, but it can also just move back to more vile capitalism, as throughout Scandinavia over the past decade or so. This is in theory, and in practice, and throughout history. (The same actually holds for coordinator economies, as we have seen recently.)
In any event, beyond instability, what is the virtue in a system built on greed, that misvalues all items, that alienates all labor, that robs dignity and potential, that is in a constant state of war, etc., not to mention the international charnal house it perpetuates. This is a goal?
>>as history indicates that it is, that any progress within capitalism is temporary and once efforts to expand it are removed, the progress will be taken back by self-serving changes imposed by capital.
>yeah, I accept that in a market system, labour will always have to organise and fight, and that capital has won almost all of the fights so far by knockout.
No. As you said, in fact labor has won much. But never by saying to capital all you have to do is raise a threat of violence and we will go home. If that is the approach, then the bully automatically wins every engagement. That is your conundrum...mine is to seek change in a way that can actually get it, without losing its way, and without undue violence. Your's is, I think, trasparently unsolveable. Mine we shall find out about, in the future, I hope.
>Doesn't necessarily mean consciousness won't change and labour won't start to win a better share. After all, you seem to be relying on the same process (labour winning more) to get to where you wish to go, just trying to develop a model where the fight can end at that point. I'm still yet to be convinced. We can discuss this point better when I understand the economics and structures underpinning your planning model a little more.
On Military Spending
>Chomsky claims in his books that the US economy during the Reagan years functioned on Military Keyenesianism; increased military spending meant increased aggregate demand meant growth. He is not alone in this analysis of what military spending in fact is for (the idea also appeared in the discussion), some Marxist writers (Michael Kidron) claim that the Long Boom 1945-72 was due to the creation of Permanent Arms Economy. Now, my problem with this explanation is a) there did not seem to be any clear correlation between some instances of reduced military spending and recessions, like in Britain in the fifties (this is a claim from "A History of Marxian Economics" by M. C. Howard & J. E. King), so - the reasoning goes - it couldn't have been military spending that was >responsible for the Long Boom.
The claim about military spending is roughly this, in simple english....
It is a way for the government to (a) get some outputs it needs to pursue its policies (thus guns that work, and so on), and (b) keep the economy rolling along in ways that do not disrupt the balance of power between classes (and thus the dominance of elites) not otherwise challenge market and capitalist norms generally.
Why should the budget emphasize military spending rather than housing, schools, welfare, health care, and so on?
Well, to get guns the government (a) has to galvanize the public with values consistent with system maintanence, (b) gets the output, which is, to a point, useful for its policy pursuits, and (c) doesn't change the social relations between classes in a way contrary to the interests of capital.
But to get schooling, pollution clean up, parks, health care, etc. the government would have to (a) galvanize the public around the idea that society should benefit its citizens, and (b) the outcomes would greatly empower working people therefore threatening bargaining relations in a way contrary to the interests of capital.
So, you see the impetus to do military spending rather than social spending.
> b) Thirty years ago, Keynesianism was economic orthodoxy. Today neoclassicals rule. The explanation of this change standardly given is >that Keynesianism proved wrong when it was first actually needed after the war, in the seventies, when instead of increasing growth the policy of deficit financing resulted only in increased inflation. Obviously, factors like the oil shocks had their share of responsibility. But, ceteris paribus, if Keynesianism were right, then unemployment should have fallen.
The theories are all garbage, by and large -- mere rhetorical flourish. No one at the top wants an end to unemployment -- directly attained by a full employment bill, for example. The purpose of military spending isn't to eliminate unemployment (and, indeed, if employment levels go too high, again threatening the balance of power between labor and capital by insuring workers against the threat of firing, government policy has to tune the economy by increasing unemployment).
Also, the current infatuation with the reduction of government intervention and spending isn't aimed at military spending in fact, which is, if anything, still rising, I believe, but at the social spending which military spending is supposed to crowd out in any event.
>It was the fact that this hasn't happened that provided >opening for Friedman, Lucas etc. - or was it not? What is going on here?
Class war is what is going on. This is not a matter of rational debate and ideas winning on the basis of evidence and analytic rigor, and then policy following suit. It is a matter of the organizational might and policy pursuits of different constituencies (in this class classes and sectors of classes) leading to policy which is in turn rationalized by one or another school of thought (read propaganda, more or less) which then becomes predominant.
Okay, it is a little oversimplified, but far closer to the mark than any notion of serious scholarship or scientific pursuit in the discipline.
>Do the leftists who rely on versions of the above Keynesian argument know something that I, studying at a fairly orthdodox institution, don't know? What is it?
I don't know what you know... Leftists, in the sense I mean the term, aren't Keynesian, I think, in the sense you mean it.
But I don't think there is much point discussing it all in terms of schools of thought -- better to actually discuss it in terms of actual relations, institutions, policies, etc.
More on Military Spending
>> The claim about military spending is roughly this, in simple english.... (b) keep the economy >> rolling along in ways that do not disrupt the balance of power between classes (and thus the dominance of elites) not otherwise challenge market and capitalist norms generally.
> How? This is the whole point of the question. Do you think that the government in a capitalist economy has the leverage to "keep the economy rolling", by running deficits?
Deficits shemificits. I mean that this way.... Take Exon, or GM, or whatever other giant company. It borrows to expand. Is that intrinsically bad? Is growing debt bad. Not at all. It is understood that the issue is what are the funds spent on, and what impact will the expenditures have in the future. Same for the government. If it borrows and spends and the result is diddley, that is one thing. If the investments are good and beneficial (not just for productivity but for people) that is another thing.
I presume you are asking, in context of the economy's daily operations, can the government go things that impact it? Sure. Can they collect tons of taxes from people and then spend them -- thus affecting the direction of production and investment? Sure. Can they impact things like inflation, unemployment rates, rates of growth, and so on, as well? Sure. Can they spend borrowed money to good or useless effect, from the perspective of different constituencies/classes? Sure.
Can they ward off some of the dynamics that might otherwise arise, without government intervention, to upset the applecart? Yep.
Can they intervene on behalf of any chosen constituency, benefitting it relative to others? For sure.
>I am not asking whether there has to be so much pressure on it and such and such conditions - I simply wanted to know, whether you think that it is technically possible.
But of course it is possible to intervene, to redirect economic choices, distribution of income and wealth, investment patterns, etc. No one can sensibly contest this... It isn't possible to pour funds into projects that have no worthy economic of social impact endlessly without dire repercussions, no.
>Because from what I know, this has failed, and I don't think that because Friedman & co. say so, but because the data show that inflation was running away and that at the same time there were more people out of work then ever before after the war, and this kept going no matter how >much the government spent.
Things were as they were sought to be, by and large, would be my estimate. Sometimes dynamics escape control somewhat, but not much since the depression...
>Just consider: in 1974, Tory Prime Minister Heath cannot face down the unions, so he tells the country to choose: him, or the unions. So the country chooses the unions, and a Labour government comes on a wave of working class militancy. What would you say the balance of class forces is?
This is not so easy to answer...certainly improving for labor, at that moment, but far from labor dominated, in any sense. And the idea that the labour party was a true manifestation of labor's gains, is not so clear, at all -- though I am no expert in British politics. But, for example, a rising labor movement in the U.S. would likely mean a democratic party victory, but the democratic party is not, for that fact, an agent of the rising movement and could choose to act, instead, to thwart it. Indeed, it would have this agenda, to the extent it could.
>But I'm saying I don't think that's what is behind the lower growth rates. And when the wealthy decide not to have children, I think its out of desire for more shallow pursuits, not due to any care about overpopulation . And by shallow I mean regarding trying to accumulate as much "stuff" for themsleves as they can as a higher puruit than having a loving family and so on. I dont think people who do want lots of children are being dissuaded from it by concerns of overpopulation. It's not a very strong moral pull for those people.
Population questions aren't issues with which I have much to say, I think -- but since it is askalbert forum, I thought I would chime in just a little bit....
(1) I actually have an article in the system that does address issues of population as best I was able. It's called Population Problem?! and is available via the Z Mag archive, for those interested.
(2) The above comment about motives for having children seems quite a stretch, to me. How does one know, or even have an informated opinion about people's freed desires re childbirth...on the one hand. On the other, why would you think that having 3, 4 , or 8 children is apriori somehow a "higher" or more "socially valuable" or more "caring" pursuit, then having fewer children, or none, and pursuing an interesting and responsible existence--whether now or in the future? It seems horribly harsh....
> It's similar to why so many people dont vote. They dont feel their drop in the bucket makes a difference.
This, however, we can know something about. You imply that feeling their drop doesn't make a difference is somehow a failing...I think it is accurate. If the decisions being made, in particular, are about candidate's personalities and visual appearance, etc., and not about their policies--because nothing anyone says about policies is believable; or if they are about personalities and not policies, because as far as one's interests are concerned the candidates are effectively indistinguishable re policies -- that is, the elections are for elites about elite interests, over non-elites (the non-voters) heads, why should the non-voters participate?
I wouldn't say it is THE CORRECT choice to not vote, but it certainly isn't a bad choice even in just the simple calculation, is it worth my time to go down there and flick that lever, much less legitimate the elites by my vote. In point of fact, I have yet to vote in a national presidential election -- I did vote in one mayoralty election in Boston.
The comments being offered by all the participants about Malthus and population generally, etc., don't seem to me to get us much beyond generalities, right or wrong. There is little evidence for claims about population rates, etc., which may appear commonsensical, but are nonetheless not always right, I think. Addressing some of this kind of discussion was the purpose of that earlier article I wrote, so perhaps it will be of some use for those interested in the topic...
>I believe if such a society came to be, with people having more equal shares of wealth and more secure environments, they would be more willing to have kids. And ParEcon might have to deal with this in some way.Would people be willing to have less children than they want just on principle alone? Perhaps, in a ParEcon society. They would be more likely to make that decision than in a capitalist society. But maybe they wouldn't.
This is a more balanced statement. Maybe folks would want more kids, per adult, maybe not. There are so many things that enter--for example, the fact that people may (likely will) often live more communally means that many folks will be able to interact closely with lots of young (and old) people, even without having any. This too could affect desires.
So I think you are right that we don't know, and pretty much can't know, this subtle a point about preferences in different contexts. Will a good, equitable, etc. society need some agreed way to limit each generation's offspring, because, in the absence of this, folks would make individual choices that would sink the broad society? I sincerely doubt this will be even close to an issue....but perhaps it will be. And if so, fine. It will be one among a great many issues that a good polity will address...
On Four Spheres of Social Life...
>I just finished reading your book Un-Orthodox Marxism in which you list 4 primary oppressions in the U.S. I didn't see any discussion of why you chose those 4, though they seem reasonable. Have you written somewhere else about why those are the primary ones and about the criteria for chosing which are most important? Have you gotten flak for not including others?
Yes, unless I am remembering wrong we have stuck ever since pretty much with the four--but in a slightly altered conceptualization.
You might want to check out later stuff -- I think Liberating Theory is the most succinct, perhaps, bearing on this.
Anyhow, the logic was pretty simple. We claim every society will inexorably, by virtue of what humans are, societies are, nature includes, etc., have a sphere of social interaction, if you will, concerned with economics, kinship, community, and governance or polity. The functions to be accomplished will not disappear, and folks in societies will create institutions to carry them out, and those institutions will have profound impact on what is possible and not, within the society they characterize.
The spheres can do their functions more or less well, and in ways that impact people, or groups of people, more or less consistently with human fulfillment and development. One possibility is that they demarcate people into opposed constituencies or sectors whose interests are at odds, for example. When this happens these gender, race, religious, national, class, and party or political differentiations dramatically contour our life prospects. The impact of the institutions and hierarchies of reward and circumstance created by any one of these spheres may, as well, spread to help define, perhaps in profound ways, the nature of other spheres.
And so on.
Now, why these four? Well, because to us it seemed that the underlying functions are inevitable -- production and consumption, procreation, socialization, and courting, formation and celebration of identity, and coordination and adjudication -- and that the structures to accomplish them have historically and will in the future have these profound implications.
As to reaction, not too much of the sort you indicate. Some get partway through and complain about ecology being slighted or international relations, say, but then they continue on and discover that these enter, and powerfully, as the context in which societies form and interact. And so on.
I still like the framework and associated concepts. The main motivation was to come up with a way of cutting up and looking at and thinking about reality that would be useable by real people and tend to help us perceive what is important to accomplishing positive social change even though we begin the undertaking with very delimited backgrounds and knowledge, and many diverse biases from our backgrounds, etc.
There is, of course, more to it --though nothing particularly difficult, I think and hope. Check Liberating Theory, again, for the most succinct presentation.
By the by, I have taught a course at ZMI called Radical Theory that does all this and I have thought about doing it online, at greater length, as well....
Payment schemes and Phelps reform...
>"His (referring to Phelps) bold solution is subsidies for EMPLOYERS (emphasis in review). He proposes a graduated schedule of subsidies to companies for each low-wage worker they employ. Phelps's rationale for this government outlay is that it equals the "external" benefit, the SOCIAL (reviewer's emphasis) benefit representing the employed worker's contribution to society. The subsidy would take the form of tax credits against the company's tax liability, ie., its payroll and corporate income tax."
Now I see what is being proposed. In a market system like ours, the economists tell us that a person is paid what is called their marginal product. In other words, the person receives in salary an amount just equal to the amount of value their work added to the product. For a lot of reasons, this is hooey. What actually happens is that employers pay the lowest rate they are able to, given the workers' status in society, organizational strength, etc. and given those of the employer. Lots of factors influence bargaining power on both sides... There is no account whatever given, however, to the "external" impacts of the transaction. In other words, neither the employer or the workers is in position or able to account for the impact of the wage rate, or the work conditions, or the profit rate, on the broader society. Phelps is saying, hold on, having society's lowest paid employees earn enough to live a worthy life is socially immensely valuable -- not solely in the immediate impact on those people, but also in its implications for the social climate we all live in, for health care, and so on. Which is true, in fact. So Phelps says, let's have society come in an raise the lowest incomes by paying a part of the salary these folks receive. So what happens. I doubt anyone can know for sure. Phelps is probably using neoclassical micro theory to make his prognostications, which will give some minimal insight, but not too much. He may even know that... I am guessing. Take a firm in which the employees have been so weak relative to their employers that the latter have been able to pay them only, say, $4 an hour. Now the government steps in and says, wait, you can't pay less than that (this is crucial) and when you pay that little, we will take on another $3. So in this firm the employees benefit substantially. And the redistribution is presumably from tax revenues to these lowest paid employees. This is good. Not the best thing one can imagine, but quite good. Now take another firm where they are paying $6 an hour now. And the government says, you must raise it to seven, and here is the other $1. What prevents the firm from now lowering the rate they pay (after some delay, etc.) so that when the dust settle the employees are back getting the same old $6 but now part is being paid by government, out of general tax revenues? If this happens, then instead of all $6 reducing the share of capital, some of it comes from taxes on wages of other employees. This is not good. It is a little more complicated, because the rising bottom does affect the power of labor and capital, and different constituencies of each, as well. But still, I suspect the key thing about Phelps's plan -- if I am understanding it correctly -- is, what level of income is allowed for the lowest paid? For example, if the plan said, every employee must receive $12 an hour minimum, and the government will subsidize firms up to that payment level for any employee that the firm can demonstrate (in some fashion) to be contributing less than that per hour to the social product, where the minimum the firm can pay of the $12 is whatever -- that would probably be excellent, even with the current tax structure. Whether or not the immediate transfer was mostly from higher paid workers wages, or from profits, in time the effect on labor's bargaining power would ensure the latter, I believe, and very strongly so. Or, you could even leave out the proviso about contribution to social product, if the whole program is funded by a profits tax...
>This stuff is truly breathtaking. A gigantic transfer of the 'safety net' social programs to capitalists, paid for by the taxpaying middle class (or lower classes if regressive schemes like the national sales tax under discussion become law.)
Yes, this is a large hole in the logic as presented...unless it is paid from a profit tax, or unless there is someway to insure that we have folks at the bottom always rising in income, rather than staying constant (due to the employer pushing down income then subsidized back up to the old level) but having some of it come from the tax pool rather than company revenues.
On the Concept Efficiency
>Notice that it is efficiency we always hear about, not effectiveness. The latter is about content and policy delivery. Efficiency is a general, abstract and primarily negative term. All the things which technocrats fear are incapable of efficiency -- risk, thought, doubt, admission of error, research and development, long-term investment, commitment to concrete places. ... An obsession with efficiency prevents growth and stymies capitalism. -- John Ralston, Saul The Unconscious Civilization
Arthur submitted this as a quote of the day and I suggested he might ask me about it over here.... On the one hand, it is the third quote from Ralston offered in three days. Let's all try for some diversity.
More to the point, based on this quote, I would be hesitant to bother putting anything by this fellow Ralston online, without seeing some really good reason. That is...if this is representative of his thought and views I have to say I don't like the quote (and I guess I do the picking) because I think it is horribly confused.
Ralston says: "Efficiency is a general, abstract, and primarily negative term."
In fact, efficiency is a general and abstract (meaning pretty much the same thing, in this sentence, I think) term, but it is not negative.
To be efficient means given a set of goals (what is abstract is not indicating the goals before the fact so the term can be applied whatever goals may be chosen) and given some array of procedures for reaching the goals (again, not indicating them is abstracting and making the term widely applicable), carrying out the best procedure to attain the goals without incurring any WASTE of things you care about is efficient. In other words, given the goals and a whole array of possible procedures for reaching them, being efficient is choosing the procedure that attains the goals at lowest cost in loss of things you care about or creation of side effects that you don't like.
This is therefore not a bad word. No one in their right mind, having agreed to a set of goals, would then want to say that attaining it with more waste and negative side effects (in their view) is better than attaining it with less waste and negative side effects (in their view). When leftists deride efficiency, to be honest, to most people we look ridiculous -- which is the whole point of marshalling the GOOD term efficiency to the cause of capital (like marshalling the GOOD term democracy to it, etc.)
So what is wrong with the type efficiency continually appealed to on behalf of capital? The goals! They are profit for owners. Most costs are discounted because owners don't care about them (thus alienation of workers, disempowerment, even physical loss, etc.). Count in these human inputs and byproducts, also others, and even with profit as goal our methods are horribly inefficient, but also name as goal, for example, creating desired outputs for people to use, or something like that, and one finds that the procedures we use are then even more grotesquely inefficient because in addition to all the horrible effects and costs, they rarely achieve the goal.
The latter part of the quotation carries on the problems..."All the things which technocrats fear are incapable of efficiency -- risk, thought, doubt, admission of error, research and development, long-term investment, commitment to concrete places. ... "
By technocrat presumably the author of the comment means a person who works primarily with technology, or who create it, or administers it, or something. These folks don't fear risk, thought, doubt, admission of error, research and development... Nor are these things incapable of achieving efficiency, for that matter. so, in my view, anyhow, the quote is just verbiage, not thought out commentary.
And the final phrase is simply meaningless: "An obsession with efficiency prevents growth and stymies capitalism." (The sidebar of this final phrase is that the author is probably not anti-capitalist but just trying to clean it up somehow, in some muddled fashion). In fact, if the goal established is the growth and perpetuation of capitalism, and the determination of what is valued and what isn't is by capitalists, then, quite the contrary of the author's claim is true: pursuing efficiency -- so stipulated -- is in accord with trying to maintain and enhance capitalism. As in practice, generally.
>I did get a meaningful definition of the technique of Deconstruction as opposed to the philosophy behind it from a professor of comparative literature I know.
>She said that texts are deconstructed by treating what is normally considered as trivial within them as important , what is normally considered important as trivial, what is normally considered fundamental as peripheral, and what is normally considered peripheral as fundamental.
Well, it sounds like a shorthand description of a way to try to get at something previously overlooked in order to overcome long-standing wrong-headed assumptions or prejudices about a work, which is fine. (Fine also in other disciplines, too, I might add...) But I can't see that it is particularly innovative. And it certainly isn't complicated.
The person who told you this to was admirable for their clarity, however.
Now if the person said that one does this BECAUSE nothing is more important or more revealing than anything else, so that by, for example, looking at the number of periods and commas per number of vowels one can discern information just as consequential to one's priorities as a reader of literature trying to benefit from what is written as one can do by looking at the meaning of paragraphs, then that would be utter childishness, in my opinion. (It might be useful for identifying authors, I suppose, though that is a different matter). That is, this type extrapolation would be taking an okay idea -- that to find what is consequential to the questions one is seeking to answer one sometimes ought to challenge prior assumptions and stand things on their head to see if past views have ERRED or been PARTIAL -- and wrongly extending it past being a useful tactic to a "philosophy" that nothing is consequential, there is no truth, and so on and so forth.
Re violence in the left
The lively discussion about violence is engaging for people, apparently...but I don't myself have much to say about it.
(1) In a good society, of course violence is not viable.
(2) Violence, in any context, has negative built-in dynamics that tend to produce a violent disposition, a devaluing of life, and so on, so that violence tends to breed a likelihood of more violence and other ill effects. (The left conception that violence can be therapeutic for the oppressed is without merit, I believe.)
(3) On the other hand, in certain contexts, for some to swear off violence just means that others will perpetrate it freely, with no restraints, and to horrid conclusions.
(4) Thus, leftists use of any kind of violence, and the more so for non-defensive steps in the direct sense, requires a heavy burden of proof, but isn't ruled out in some apriori sense -- to my mind -- as pacifists argue.
Thus, I am not non-violent, a pacifist, in principle. My disposition is that way. My feelings are that there is a large burden of proof for any other steps. But I don't rule it out apriori...
Put another way...In the U.S., if you turn the other cheek, they will hit that one too -- if you place your body across the tracks, they will run it over.
Thus, self defense is sometimes and even often strategically and morally justified. The key thing in this regard, however, is to create a dynamic wherein the use of violence by authorities is counter productive FOR THEM in that it merely agitates and strengthens their opponents (us) rather than eliminating their opponents. Sometimes creating this constraint on their choices includes our being ready and willing to fight back....
All that said, I think the discussion of these issues has nothing much to do with practical realities that we now face. That is, in the current setting the means of violence are so monopolized by our opponents that the way forward for us is to utilize tactics and strategies that make their use less and less possible, not approaches that seemingly justify their use. This is why I find discussions like this one, at least undertaken outside private bull sessions and philosophy courses, etc., counterproductive.
> First, let me say that I don't think we disagree very much, overall. As to the immediate question, I was thinking of Pannekoek's worker's councils. And I guess what brought that to mind was that, it seemed to me, Pannekoek had a clear audience for his writings, in the form of the council communism movement.
Panneokoek, Rocker, are among my favorites. But they never got anywhere compared to market and centrally planned coordinator visions. Why is that?
I think there are many reasons, but one is that they never offered anything that wasn't susceptible to being called utopian, anything that actually indicated beyond vague generalities, how the economy would really work, anything that would let working people argue effectively with managerial leninist types.
What I do is in the same tradition as their work, to be sure, but takes it much further, making far more explicit the values at work and how they inform the institutional choices, and the nature of those institutional proposals -- thus inviting further refinement, etc.
I think we need more of that, not only re economics which I happen to have worked on quite a lot, but other sides of life as well.
P.S. Pannokeok and Rocker, etc. had, in fact, very different views about straegy than advocates of coordinator (typically leninist supported) models. Vision does impact strategy, most assuredly.
> But, to stick with your metaphor, is there really only one game of chess being played by the progressive forces in, even, this country?
No, you are correct I think. There are different domains, such as battles over race, gender, power, and economy... The team on the oppressive side has a lot of coherence, but certainly some serious internal differences over how to proceed re each of these battles (and they have a two winged government to hassle those out, by and large). We have even more views about how best to struggle, but, I think, that derives in part because our views on this are rarely rooted in both analysis of the present and also some useful clarity about what we are trying to accomplish.
Ultimately honest differences can stem from pursuing different values, or from having a different read on how to attain the same values.
> Well, Michael I am being vague, you're right about that. But I'm not trying to be perjorative -- and I wasn't trying to quote Noam either (sometimes I do that by accident). I think the general/special relativity metaphor was running through my brain.
I don't follow the metaphor....
> I ... wonder if, at this point, we all agree that we are working on the same house. Maybe this is one of the reasons people resist drawing up a broad plan for the house?
Whose interest is it in, however, if we have a building going up for a hundred residents, that there be no debate about differences over what it should be--there be no contrasting of alternatives and discussion of their merits, etc.? It is whoever will, by default, impose the decisions who benefits, not the many residents.
If there are lots of existing proposals for the building, then, again, isn't it best that everyone know that and partake of choosing which ultimately holds sway...as compared to a quiet competition in which only elites are judges?
As long as there is no public and serious discussion of goals it is a few academics and people with virtual monopolies on left communication and decision making who turn vagueness into coherence, whether by coercion or by THEIR logic, or both, when that is called for. The rest just watch....
Regarding the economy, absence of public discussion and elaboration of vision guarantees coordinator outcomes because it will be representatives of that class, every time, filling in the blanks.
> To run with the metaphor --
> Could we be at the point now where we have a community of houses, each of which could be planned much more thoughtfully than they are -- but although we're all living in the same town (more or less), we're not quite ready to be roommates yet. But if we were all more self-analytical in our housebuilding (identifying strategies, goals, and visions), AND we spent more time comparing our building plans across households, we would find that we have a lot more in common than we realize.
Sure, particularly when we are talking about movements with different focus -- race, gender, economy, etc. The separate aims have to be brought into alignment, a sometimes long process --- but one that cannot take place unless the aims are enunciated.
But within any domain, say economics, I think it is different. Again we may well -- indeed we will -- wind up with a few plans, for example, a social democratic one, a market coordinator one, and perhaps one or more that truly reflect the interests of working people (showing my bias). What irks the hell out of me, however, is that the people who seem to me to be most serious about pursuing the values everyone purports to favor -- justice, equity, participation, etc. -- and which do challenge injustice from the bottom, etc., don't do it. It is the most libertarian constituency, always, who forego, for whatever reasons, being coherent, and who then get trounced.
> I guess we maybe differ only in our take on what is the best approach to communicating our goals and visions with others. I agree that "going beyond our past and even current experience....is often absolutely key to innovation." But I have a sense (again, a vague one without supporting argument or facts) that more people can identify with something that says: "Look, here's what we did and are doing, and here is why we are doing it this way, and this is our longterm vision that animates us in this particular task. And although you probably have other primary concerns, I think our fundamental principles are, at heart, the same. And so you could maybe learn something from us. Presumably, if you tell us what you are doing and how and why, we will learn something from you as well." I think this maybe differs a little from the approach you favor in that you would, perhaps, want to focus more on trying to identify the overall shared visions, and then grounding this in the here and now (and history) with examples and illustrations from real progessive projects. Maybe both approaches have their merit....
I am honestly not sure that in practice there is anything to discuss here. Any difference. It is arguably different stages in the process... Your folks who are saying here is what we have done and how it was impacted by our principles, visions, strategies --- where did the principles, visions, and strategies they had when they did their thing, come from?
But I don't think we really have any significant difference, here.
> But I was thinking more of approaching the thing from the other direction -- Do you think it would be valueable (and interesting) to look at SEP or Z, specifically analyzing one of these projects?
Z is a little idiosyncratic, I think, or questionable anyhow, because the staff is me, lydia, and eric -- lydia and I having lived together for centuries and eric being lydia's son. There isn't much structure that is generally applicable to study, in that.
But yes, most certainly I think looking at SEP's history, and for that matter the history and experience of left organizations generally, would obviously be a very good thing to do. It is one of the things we do at ZMI, for example, as well as discussing the structures of other institutions, etc.
But the real question seems to me to be, since it is so obvious and elementary that we should be examining and evaluating our institutional efforts particularly those that are contrary to norms and argue they are prefigurative, is why DOESN'T it happen?
Why, for example, in twenty years, has there never been on the left, to my knowledge, any examination of SEP or of any other truly differently organized institution and discussion of its merits or debits?
What do you think?
> When I started the "CCLA Manifesto" I was talking about, those were some of the questions I had. It soon became clear to me that even when considering this tiny little student group which had a very limited focus, far-reaching questions of goals, visions, organizational structure, and tactics came to the forefront. Some of us considered even writing a book -- because we thought that this process of self-analysis, if fleshed out, would be relevant far beyond the specific case of our group. But we (I at least) had a sense that noone would really be interested. What do you think?
I think you are quite right. But you see it is my point more generally as well. In fact, I think we have tons of experience and examples and history to evaluate -- our problem isn't want of information or brains with which to come up with useful insights. Our problem is (a) sitting down to do it and (b) overcoming habitual ways of seeing things and thinking about them.
I don't know if parecon is as good and as important as I think, for example. But I know it isn't rocket science (I like to say). It doesn't take all that much to envision news ways of interacting and organizing and structuring ourselves locally, and only a modest amount more effort to string this into a picture that is societal, I believe. The hard part is breaking with the past, and with implicit prejudices about what is possible, etc.
Anyhow, I do think we agree quite a bit....I am interested in your answer as to why you think the left spends so little time evaluating its own work, so to speak, including the specific case of SEP, say.
Role of the Activist
> What should one do to influence the majority?
> I know about alternative media and all that, but the
> masses will never here them.
Well one might ask, how did the women's movement do it, or the civil rights movement, or the anti Vietnam War movement. For surely all of these, though they weren't the best one can imagine, did, in fact, greatly influence the majority.
I think the answer is that people worked very hard in all manner of ways, to disseminate truthful and relevant information and to create space and opportunity to think on it and act on it.
This is everything from public gatherings and talks, to leaflets and marches, to demonstrative and informative events, civil disobedience, etc., to alternative media and mainstream publishing as well.
Actually, I think the sixties movements, taken broadly, had an immense impact on public consciousness -- both awareness and ideas and morals. On the other hand, it had far less impact (and paid far less attention) to structures, with the predicatable result that its victories have been under seige ever since. Hopefully, folks will do better in the future.
> How do you get to the people that will never be
> able to "read Chomsky", as Michael Moore says?
I suspect pretty much everybody could "read good lefties," Chomsky included, of diverse type and focus, with full comprehension. (It is the wealthy and highly educated who cannot understand the words we place on paper, it being so contrary to their prejudices and interests.) So the issue is getting material into the hands of people who are not looking for it, and, in fact, don't even know it exists. I agree. And this is very hard, given the limited resources available.
But, again, in the large I think the answer is a combination of activism and visible actions and options for people, plus the best possible dissemination of written and other modes of consciousness raising we can muster.
I wish there were some more subtle and and compelling approach, but I don't know it.
The only wrinkle I can think of is on the media side, trying to generate sufficient resources to do our own mass media, essentially. A principle goal of mine, but one I and others are still far from achieving.
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> John and Michael: I agree that it is difficult to
> organize people around a vision of the future these
> days, but I think people need goals to strive for.
We're agreed on needing goals...but I think it is goals to attain, not just strive for.
> I am reminded of Andre' Gorz, in his recent book,
> "Capitalism, Socialism, Ecology", saying that
> communism will always remain "a horizon of meaning".
I have no idea what that means...
> Presumably, that means that it, or any vision of
> the future, for example, radical democracy, will
> always be out of our reach. We'll keep moving
> toward it, but we'll never quite get there. That
> makes sense to me.
How does it make sense?
If we set a goal that is beyond attainment -- either somehow contradictory with human capabilities, or physical laws, for that matter -- then surely it will always be out of reach. This is what it means to be utopian, I think. To strive for something impossible. To try to have people fly like birds, unassisted, or live forever, is utopian, as best we know. To have markets and participatory democracy, markets and classlessness, is impossible, utopian, I believe, as well.
But to have "radical democracy," or equity, or justice, or participatory economics, for that matter -- on what grounds do we think these goals have to be always beyond our actual attainment?
>Remember Plato talking about
> the "ideal" chair up in the sky somewhere and its
> piss-poor copy down here on earth. Maybe piss-poor
> copies of our dreams will be all thaat we'll be
> able to realize, but I think it's important to have
> that dream and I think maybe we can be very proud
> of our piss-poor copy.
I'd rather have a nice chair that does what we want it to, within the limits our limbs and anatomy allow, and that the physics of its structure and components allow. I see no reason whatsoever to think that a just and equitable and caring and democratic society is beyond humanity's reach, not just as a dream to inspire, but as a goal to attain. In that sense it is like a nice chair. Quite possible to attain.
>As long as we can reach a
> stage wherein no more children are malnourished
> from even before they're born, a stage where they
> can all have equal educational opportunities up to
> and including college if they choose to go there,
> a stage wherein they have good medical care,
> housing, clothing, enough food and are not dis-
> criminated against for their "otherness", but have
> that fact celebrated, then we can be damn proud
> of our piss-poor copy.
Well, we could be happy that we were better off than we might be, for sure--particularly those whose lot was dramatically improved. But Sweden had all that you list, for example, and has pretty much lost it, I believe. They had it by virtue of working people having a lot of power in a system which had contrary inclinations that their power held in check. When their power was eroded, the system's inclinations took over, and many of the good characteristics were lost.
One might argue, and I would, that had the power they had been translated into systemic changes, that reversion would not have happened--unless imposed from without.
>Of course, it may either
> take a very long time, or we may never achieve all
> of the goals just listed, but even if we can
> achieve just some of them, if a few less babies in
> Boston don't suffer inadequate brain development
> due to malnutrition, if a few less children in
> rural West Virginia are given coffee and snuff by
> parents who don't know any better, and so they're
> not hungry for the hot, free breakfasts at school
> and also suffer inadequate brain development, if
> we can prevent even a few outrages like that from
> continuing to happen, then I think we will have
> accomplished something and can work toward further-
> ing that and then moving on to our next goal.
There is a sense in which I agree, and a sense in which I don't.
Consider, as a stark example, a slave system. One might spend forever struggling to improve the lot of slaves, given slavery. It would be uphill, back down, up a little, down some, and so on. Every improvement would be a worthy accomplishment, to be sure. Yet, one could also argue, and I would, that despite respecting the efforts to alleviate the pains of slavery, a better course would be to try to eliminate it, structurally. On the road one could surely fight for improvements -- but instead of doing that in ways accepting and reinforcing the basic underlying slave relations, one could do it in ways developing the consciousness and organization to eventually overcome the causes, not just ameliorate the symptoms, of slavery.
The same goes, it seems to me, for the ills of partriarchy, or racism, or capitalism.
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I suspect we don't disagree in the abstract...Surely a goal isn't THE GOAL, we would agree. So having goals to inform practice, provide direction, etc. is good -- though thinking one knows the end of history isn't.And surely on the way to a goal, if it is at all distant, one has to pay very close attention to the present and its possibilities and to the need to retain active comittments and energy in the here and now, not just celebrate a distant future.
And so on.
Where we probably disagree, or may, anyhow...is on what goals will best inform effective action now, and on how the dynamic between what we are doing now and what we seek for the long run should play out.
For one thing, I think the cynicism and doubt that interferes with accomplishing many short term aims that would, indeed, benefit people now, stems from a belief (justified, in many ways) that such gains, even if won, will be very temporary and will entail other losses. folks don't fight to get many attainable short term ends because they feel that if THE SYSTEM stays basically as it is, it will eat up their gains, ultimately. Thus, even to make the short-term gains, people need a feeling that once won they can be defended and enlarged, preserved, and made natural. This has to do with how they see the future, institutionally. With whether they think there is any alternative to the basic causes of inequality, etc.
Or so it seems to me.
Anyhow, I have to take off for a week, visiting home for the holidays. Perhaps you and others will pursue this a bit more over the holidays, and I can join in when I get back.
Have a nice holiday, in any event...
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> the impression that participatory economics involves
> lots of committees, councils, etc., at every level
> of a system without markets, and that there would
> be planning involving experts, workers, consumers
> and people in the communities surrounding the plants.
Well, broadly speaking...
> Well, if that's a fair representation, it doesn't
> sound like such a bad idea.
I like to think its a pretty good idea...
> However, you know and
> I know that there would be periods of mass apathy,
> and that's where I'm afraid modern-day, U.S.
> versions of apparatchiki would accumulate power.
Actually, I don't know any such thing. In fact, I also don't even know what mass apathy is, much less anticipate its appearance. But, if I had to guess at the meaning --lack of interest or energy for things one sees as intrinsically important to one -- I would have to say that in my opinion it is not only not inevitable, but it has never existed and will never exist. (On the other hand, lack of interest in things one sees as not important to one, is, of course, always with us, sensibly.)
> I think that in order to preserve freedom and
> democracy we need to have a vital petit bourgeois
> sector (if anybody would have said this a few
> years ago, I would have jumped down their throat).
Well, I will be civil and not visit your inner throat...but pending what you mean by petit bourgeois, I suspect we disagree greatly. (Actually, just about anything you could possibly mean by it would leave me disagreeing, now that I think about it.)
> I would also like to see lots of cooperatives and
> worker-owned and run businesses.
By "also," I take it you mean by petit bourgeois private individuals who own companies and profit thereby. Perhaps when I get back we can go into why you would like to see this as part of a desirable future...but a week off, please, first.
>But I do think
> that semi-socialized markets are the way to go.
I always wonder, I hope you won't take this wrong, what it means when someone says this sort of thing. In other words, why they think it...and with what degree of confidence.
> The old me would be shocked, but I do want to try
> to avoid too much power getting into too few
I have to say, I bet the old you, with a little prepping, would win a debate with the new you.
Actually that raises an interesting point. There are quite a few dissident economists who have gotten on the market bandwagon, espousing market virtues, or at least arguing market necessity. In younger days, these same folks were fierce critics of markets. Well, in a debate the younger versions would annihilate the older versions, who, interestingly, have to my knowledge never actually pointed out why, in their wasted youth, they were wrong.
>Perhaps your vision has safeguards against
> that, too, and I will certainly have to read more
> about it.
I look forward to your reactions. I'm not sure what the "that" is, immediately above, however -- I think misallocation of power. Yes, I think parecon does prevent this, at least regarding economic matters.
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> Has Sweden really changed so much? My cousin is a swede, so I really should ask her. But has Sweden transformed so much in just a few years?
Sweden was and still is a capitalist country.
What gaining and losing means, in this context, is labor having more or less bargaining power -- and general influence, relative to capital.
With more, capitlalism's worst attributes are tempered with a better distribution of income, better work conditions, various government programs, etc. With worse, these diminish or disappear.
So it is a kind of continuum. Social Democracy is a label that applies to the end of the spectrum where, though capitalist, labor has quite a lot of relative power.
Yes, I believe the balance of power in Sweden has dramatically shifted and with it much of the social democratic infrastructure and high wages, etc., have been reduced or lost.
> Do you consider the systems that Holland and Denmark currently have to be approaching optimum, or do you think that they have fundamental flaws?
Same as above.
These systems are on the same axis of organizational structure and social relations as what we have, in fact. It is much nicer to live in a country where labor is strong and capital relatively restrained, to be sure. But it is far from optimal....
Sports, competition, and left goals....
Many leftists, way more than most, in my opinion, are very hostile to professional sports, and often to sports generally.
I think there are probably many reasons, different from individual to individual, among leftists.
BUT, when the opposition isn't to sports as practiced in our society, but to sports per se...then I wonder what the logic may be.
I think, most often, it is an aversion of competition.
So, what do people think about competition? Is it intrinsically bad. Something we should not want to have in a good society, for example? Or are there good and bad elements -- the latter presumably emphasized in our society?
What happen to Liberating Theory?
> So what ever happen to the project that was suppose to come out of the Book Liberating Theory? I know its an old project , but I just read the book and I though it was a very interesting, project and theory to keep debating on. I also would like to know what was the response from the left or what we consider the left.
Hey, not that old......copyright 1986, in fact.
Liberating Theory is a book with a bunch of authors -- myself, chomsky, lydia sargent, holly sklar, leslie cagan, mel king, and robin hahnel -- not a collection, but a book.
It was an attempt to examine existing leftist approachs to understanding society and history so as to hammer out a new way of doing so that would be more effective and useful to activists.
I have to say, I agree with you that it was quite an interesting book, and I very much wish it had caught a far bigger wave, so to speak. But it didn't. I don't know why.
The horrible truth now is that the book is in very low stock and unlikely to be reprinted. Some time back I suggested doing a follow-up, even urged it, on SEP, and they didn't want to pursue it and rejected my proposal -- not the first time that's happened, to be sure.
The book really is dated now, I think...in that much of the discussion of old perspectives is no longer nearly as relevant as it was in 1986. But I also think the positive ideas are quite relevant and I have been considering the possibility of trying to write something for our time, updating those ideas, and presenting them anew. I don't know if I will manage to do that, or not....
> In UnOrthodox Marxism you consider 4 main oppressions,
> sexism, classism, rascism and authoritarianism. You
> and Robin consider these to be the most important
> of the oppressions. There are probably people who
> disagree with you.
What we say is that all societies have economy, kinship, community, and polity, by virtue of human and social properties, and that in creating institutions to fulfill the functions of each of these spheres it is possible that hierarchies of constituencies develop -- classes, genders/sexual groups, cultural communities of various types, parties and political hierarchies..... If so, these oppressions are important because, being at the heart of these critical areas of social life, they sharply delimit social possibilities for the various constituencies ---- and so on....
> Have you discussed anywhere how you came to choose
> those 4?
Yes, I think in various places...somewhat. I am thinking about doing a course online for LOLU that would deal with such matters, among many others, hopefully.
The idea is that the spheres of life are essentially inevitable, thus -- short of a society without hierarchies -- so are the constituencies as determiners, roughly, of social possibility, allegiances, consciousness, interests, etc. Thus, very important.
Others look at ecology, say, or international relations. We find it more useful to see these as a kind of context within which societies, with four mentioned spheres, exist.
No one I know of has proposed another sphere -- though sometimes I suggest a kind of mental one, with the oppressive dynamic being sectarianism -- but I don't really think that line of reasoning works too well.
>I'm wondering from the point of view
> of figuring out in a particular place and time
> what are the aspects of a culture that need changing.
> How do you decide which are the important fights
> since we all have limited time and energy.
Well, it can be pure intuition, I suppose. Or a guess. Or just chosing what looks like being more possible, or more fruitful.
Or one can have a vision, and a broad scheme/strategy for attaining it, and in light of these perceive how changes contribute, and choose among those changes that contribute those that will do most, that one can affect, to work on.
Gabe,re your comments about the failure of communist regimes...You are quite right that their practice (and intellectual framework and values) re gender, race, and authority left a whole lot to be desired.But, in my opinion, in a real sense they were as bad, in some subtle ways perhaps even arguably worse, re class.
The Marxist Leninist project, and even the Marxist project in all its significant (rather than peripheral) applications, has never sought classlessness, but, instead, always an economy without capitalists (a plus) but with a class of what I call coordinators gaining advantage via their relations to decisions amking apparatuses and related skills and information, and using it to dominate other economic actors removed from these "assets" -- that is, workers.
I offer this comment because while a great many leftists, over the past few decades, have rejected marxism leninism and the experience of the Soviet Union et. al. on grounds from race to authority, to gender, to economic collapse -- far fewer have done so on grounds of oppressive economic aims. But the latter is precisely the recognition most needed, at this point, to make new gains, I think, being the one least understood.
> I don't know WHERE you're getting this idea from. The Marxists (from the original Social Democratic Marxists to the dissident, anti-Stalinist communists to our friends at MONTHLY REVIEW and NEW LEFT REVIEW) have always sought an an economy based on "the freely associated producers." This is exactly what you seek. I fail to see the conflict, or how Marxism leads to "co-ordinatorism" (assuming we're talking about genuine, democratic Marxism here).
Individual marxists don't much matter .... (like individual advocates of private ownership, or various religions, for that matter). Marxist organizations and parties do matter, of course (like bourgeois parties or organied religions).
What people say they are for, or even what they want -- truly want, doesn't much matter, beyond determining how we feel about them as people, potential friends, etc. (As with religious people or even capitalists, for example Engels who owned a facotory). It is very important for personal judgements, to be sure, but not what I am talking about.
The issue is, in practice (and even conceptually) what does marxism seek to attain. Not what is the rhetoric (any more than we ask what is the rhetoric of Bill Gates or Bill Clinton) or even true personal hopes, but what is the actual implication of their thoughts and choices, particularly organizationally. This, in fact, is one of the good things that marxism teaches (among many). We don't ask what a movement says it wants, we look to see what it tries to (or does) attain. We look to see what its world view highlights and obsures, what groups (if any) its vision elevates and what groups it subordinates, and so on.
I believe, overwhelmingly so, if one does this re the marxist heritage, marxist parties, even marxist individuals (leaders), by and large though not universally -- DESPITE stated and sometimes truly sincere desires for justice, classlessness, etc., in a personal sense, the actual aims are coordinatorist in the sense I describe.
The goals is central planning plus state or public ownership -- or market allocation plus state or public ownership -- or a combination ---- and all these are coordinator economies. This is the stated goal, and it is the goal that has been repeatedly attained, as sought. This is enough to make the case. But one can then go much further, looking at the very concepts of the theory to see if one can trace this implication to a lower level -- to the ways of organizing perceptions, analysis, etc.
This Robin and I do in Unorthodox Marxism, among other places. How well is a matter for you to assess.
What you and I ought to be able to agree here, however, whether our claim is ultimately right or wrong, is that it is quite credible (not incredible as it at first sounded to you) in light of the above.
Sports, competition, and left goals....
> Competition in the pursuit of excellence -- i.e., wanting to be "the best" at something, be it sports or music or writing or what have you -- is a good thing. Excellence is its own reward, as the saying goes.
> It's competition in the pursuit of money, of private profit, that's such a problem, which I hope humanity can one day overcome.
I'd like to tentatively suggest, for discussion -- which I hope a bunch of people will interact over -- that this isn't quite sufficient.
To get it started, what of the view which says that intrinsic to competition is the idea of winning and losing, and that joy and pleasure or some kind of satisfaction, in any event, should be taken from winning, and that that has intrinsic built-in anti-social attributes?
This view is held by a lot of people I think -- who reject typical sports competition, for example and see both where the Little League goes and where the professional leagues go as reflecting, in considerable part (not exclusively, of course) the impact of this negative dynamic.
Sports, competition, and left goals....
> I wonder if perhaps the enjoyment most
> people take in winning competitions isn't
> so much based on, "I beat you and that
> makes me happy", as it is more of the
> thrill of success...of achievement.
So the good side of competition is the challenge that it raises.
Okay, but if that is so, then why is winning so much better than losing.
Suppose a losing team or individual plays better than it has in the past, and the winner plays only average or less well than in the past. What should be their reactions to the event, as compared to what is their reaction to the event?
If the challenge is the thing, then while all actors try to win, or else no challenge, as for enjoyment, satisfaction, etc., who actually does win would be irrelvant -- wouldn't it?
Re: Sports, competition, and left goals....
> ...I think all the problems people generally associate with competitive sports also occur in non-competitive sports, if you have people who don't really want to be there or who have attitude problems.
I still want to explore it further, if it is okay with you and others.....
We agree that insofar as competition just heightens the quality of the interaction, focuses attention, leads to more challenge and such -- it is positive.
What I want to know is when, if ever, is it negative? Or put differently, what aspect or element of competition is negative, if the above aspects are positive -- if any?
Here is an answer many offer, I think, which I don't think is so clearly false and may well be true.
The aspect of competition that is intrinsically bad is the idea of winners and losers and that the condition of winning is superior to the condition of losing, and depends on losers to exist.
Consider being a fan. Why root for a team to win? If the only thing that matters about competition is the way it hones skills and attention, etc., and if what matters is only the quality of play and not the score (the score merely being a means of eliciting the highest quality of play), why then does a fan root, instead of merely enjoying quality?
And why is there a moment of elation upon winning, and of letdown upon losing...for most if not all competitive athletes (chess players, lawyers, or whatever else you want to throw into the mix).
Is it only the extaneous reward system, or is it in part something inside the dynamic of winning and losing, and thus competing?
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> I am going to continue the debate if I may.
By all means, sure.
> Having read through the postings - the question of why the 'left' doesn't examine and plan for the future as well as build a coherent cohesive alternative to the right, may lie in the nature of the differences between the two.
> The 'right' as a reflection and necessary element of elitist power, has 'leaders' or front men - these are easy focus targets and by extention - high profile communicators. They are designed for appeal to mass consumption and yet directly to the individual. This is a very powerful and immotive 'advantage'.
I guess I don't quite understand the above. The right is hierarchical, has leaders with power over others -- true. So? How does that explain why the left pays little attention, relatively, to vision and strategy?
>The 'left' of-course doesn't want to adopt such a stance least it become by accident or design a shadow or even twin of its opponent. The lack of a specific 'focus' for the mass of society - renders the left's ability to communicate almost non-existent.
This I don't get. Yes, the left eschews an elite structure (at least the non-Leninist left does). But that doesn't mean it doesn't address issues and make its views rather widely known, at least over time.
Take the Vietnam War or the Gulf War, take nukes (reactors or bombs) or ecology generally, take the women's movement or the civil rights movement or gay movement. All of these, and others, successufully investigated, thought about, and developed views about various facets of society, made these known rather widely, etc.
If they had been as able to generate coherent aims, both long and shorter term, I think they would all have been more powerful.
> The 'right',from the 'top man' down to the local counciller appears to provide a structure that not only involves everybody in the processes of negotiation and decision taking but -more importantly - also 'appears' to have all best interests at heart.
Now I am lost. This top down structure surely doesn't involve everyone in developing perspectives but, instead, passes them along, almost like marching orders. But, in any event, I don't see the relevance.
The way the right is organized and communicates is surely not the only way possible. And it is hard for me to conceive that the reason why the left and progressive community has been relatively negligent, in my view, regarding attention to vision and strategy, as compared to identifying oppressions and analyzing them, surely can't be due to not being hierarchical, can it?
I think maybe I am not understanding...
> The 'left' ( that is the left that the readers and contributors of Znet understand ) has no such 'leader focus' and thus appears to have no structures of communication, either 'to' the wider audience or 'with' the wider audience. The absence, real or otherwise, of such visible structures renders it as good as invisible to the average citizen.
The left has been quite visible at various moments, in fact. Dramatically affecting popular thought and culture -- but not institutions, a big part of our problem, I think. The archtype leaderless movement was the No Nukes movement, I suppose, whose message went far and wide, such as it was.
> The reason or one of the reasons why the structures of the 'right' proliferate and continue I feel lies not just in human history to date (in that most systems of mass society have been organised in a similar manner)but also in the control that the current orders of power exercise over the media / education / politics etc etc, and also in the nature of the way in which power is maintained within these structures.
By all means. Precisely so. The right has great successes in promulgating its views because it has vast resources and tools at its disposal. Even incompetent, which in fact it often is (luckily) it is going to have a big effect.
One way to say this is that when fighting fleas elephants don't need to have the optimal strategy.
>Namely in the manner that you outlined to me a while ago - ie ; that any changes allowed within current structures is merely an 'allowance' by those in power as a recognition of gain (for them - which may actually be the maintainence of status quo) and supposed gain for everybody else
I have said things like the above, but not quite the above. Changes allowed within current structures are not allowance, but are won -- or given. If given, they benefit elites and are given for that reason. If won, it is because they do not benefit elites, and have to be extracted via pressure.
>- this ensures that no 'real' change can occur without aggression, very little change will occur without 'elitist' defeat or consent and lastly the 'left' continues to be denied the opportunity to provide a viable working/living/breathing example of alternative society operating successfully for a 'mass' of people. The 'right' can - and continues to do so - by dint of the fact that its the only structure in operation etc.
True enough. They have a working model, and we don't. The rest of your commentary seems generally true enough...broadly. But it doesn't seem to address the question.
Look at the publishing lists of progressive houses, or the progressive books in more mainstream houses. Look at years upon years of articles in progressive periodicals, or progressive articles in more mainstream periodicals. It is isn't that there is no output. Not at all. There is huge output. And it isn't that the output has no effect. No sireeee. If you compare broad public consciousness in 1960 to now, about race, gender, class, sex, power, the state, professionals, etc., on every front there has been major motion toward the kinds of viewpoints the left espouses, I believe.
But, if you ask what is possible, what we could attain, what we might do, etc., and check popular views on these matters, there is no such motion.
And if you then go back and look again at those list of books and articles, or listen to archives of talks and speeches, and so on, you will see, I believe, the same imbalance. Vast application of energies to talking about what is wrong, and why it is wrong (somewhat less but still a lot), but little attention to alternatives or means of attaining them.
I don't think what you are pointing at explains the disparity...or I don't understand how, at any rate.
Organizing and Personal Politics
>You said that a left that was anti-religious and that was anti-sports had little chance of succeeding in the US...
Well, I think I said a lot of things in the posts you are reacting to, but a part of it was that, yes, a movement which denigrates sports and sports fans, religion and the religious, is not going to get far in the U.S.
> First, my comments about religion:
Like you I am profoundly and deeply critical of organized religion based as it is, often, upon huge and often viscious hierarchies and all manner of duplicities...and so on. I suspect a whole lot of religous people would agree.
But this critical view, whether correct as you and I think, or wrong as others think, is not particularly relevant to the comment you are addressing. In fact, even if religion was intrinsically productive of oppression, by its very nature rather than as it has manifested in oppressive settings and societies, my comments could nonetheless be true, or false.
But I don't think there is any evidence whatever that spirituality or religion is, by its very nature, irrespective of surrounding social relations, productive of oppression. The only argument I have heard for that is that belief in some kind of authoritative god engenders allegiance to authority in social relations as well. That may or may not be true -- at best it is plausible, not proven -- but even if it were true religion is not, by definiition, belief in subservience to some higher power...and it is quite possible that that component of relgion would fade or even disappear in good societies.
In fact, in the U.S. (and of course Central America) religious communities have been at the core of many movements, for decades now --- particularly civil rights and anti-war.
> As an individual who has a deep and effective belief in a higher power, I am going to say that the number one problem with our society is religion. I'm sure there are other purveyors of this page who will agree with me.
Perhaps there are. I am not one, despite my strong criticisms of organized religion and my not having any belief whatever in any higher power...for that matter.
> Now sports:
> More women are battered on Superbowl Sunday than any other day of the year.
Yes. And? No one has argued that as organized and practiced professional sports in our society are without faults, grave faults. In fact, I think very few fans would make such a claim.
This is true for virtually everything in our society. Suppose we asked what was the role of artistic creation. We would find, overwhelmingly, that artistic talents are used to sell products, often via gross duplicity. AS a personal act that is certainly no worse than throwing a pass or even a body block. Does this make us anti-art? Does it make us critical of those who appreicate art? Or even critical of those who might laugh at or otherwise see something amusing in an ad?
The analogy isn't perfect but it is worth considering. What makes it not perfect is, in my opinion, that there may well be (I think there are) aspects of competitive dynamics (in sports and elsewhere) that may well be intrinsically negative, not just imposed on sports by society.
>Sports are extremely exploitative to minorities and deny many children who aren't athletes, but are good students the opportunity access to education.
Again, this doesn't really have much bearing -- and the issues are somewhat more difficult, in any event, I think. But even if you are completely right -- so?
Education in our society is infinitely more destructive, when you think about it, than sports. Consider what schooling does to people -- both those that "benefit" and those that don't. Which course in high school does more damage, history or gym? Which part of Harvard does more damage: the athletic program or the business school. And so on.....we aren't moved as a result to denigrate advocates of education or students for being students.
>How can I, as an advocate for the most demonized people in US society, low-income women, say that I believe that people should be paid 25 million dollars to knock the shit out of each other.
You don't have to say that. More, not to many fans say or think that, or anything like it, in fact.
But why can't one have a full and critical understanding of the political economy of professional sports, and even the negative dynamics of many amateur sports, as currently organized, yet still appreciate the positive elements and not -- I don't know how to put this -- express by manner, tone, words, and expression disdain for those who do?
And why, often, does the person who is critical of sports show far more anger and disdain for some sports than others -- far more for football, baseball, etc. and less for skating, for example?
> Incidentally, I used to be a state-champion wrestler and did serious body-building for years. My belief is that sports as Americans value them value nothing but aggression and competition. Two more of the biggest problems facing the US.
If we could, what I would like to discuss with you is what you think is wrong with competition.
> In short, maybe a left which suports sports and religion has the only chance of success, but it will be the same token ineffectual successes that it's had for the last twenty years.
The left doesn't have to celebrate either sports or religion. Why would it? No one has said anything like that, that I am aware of. There is a very large gap between not being so hostile to these that a fan or a devout person feels attacked -- and literally elevating them somehow.
There is a big gap between being able to communicate respectfully and knowledgeably with people about these, sharing some of their enjoyment and satisfaction in the best parts, on the one hand, and being some kind of super (mindless) fan or super believer, on theo other.
It is the extremely negative stance I am criticizing -- which in no way translates to a mindlessly slavishly positive stance.
The left is in zero danger of becoming pro religion or pro sports in anything remotely like the sense you have in mind. The issue isn't that, but how far it goes in the other direction.....
Sports, competition, and left goals....
> What I was saying is that in some cases, the condition of winning is NOT considered superior to the condition of losing, and that I think mutual respect and genuine interest in being there to have fun are what makes that possible.
Agreed. So now how does one have the good part of competition -- the challenge and excitement it induces -- without the bad part: winning being better than losing?
> What we'll all agree on is that 99% of sports in the US are totally screwed up, from Little League where parents have their egos invested in little 7 year old Jane, to professional sports which are used to divert public attention from the criminal lies and abuses of the powerful institutions.
Actually I won't quite agree. And I don't think I am nitpicking, either--though I think on reflection you may agree with me. I think there are good and bad aspects at every level of sports...to be sure...so we agree on that (something that is generally true about virtually everything in our society.
But the aspect of sports most often signled out as ITS drawback -- that it is an immense diversion -- I don't think is, in fact, sports's fault. It is not a drawback of sports that people like it.
Sex is a diversion to. So is good music or fine foods. Reading novels. We do these things, enjoy them, and generally aren't thinking about political oppression or ending it while we do. Thus, we can say they divert us.
If sports didn't appeal to people, people wouldn't spend time at them or being fans, etc. That they are appealing is not a debit, any more than that sex or good food or play (not sports) or fine art are appealing is a debit.
The fact that people prefer to read the Sports pages -- which largely tell the truth, if not the whole truth -- instead of the front pages, which are often blather and painful, is no real surprise. About sports people can exercise their judegment without wallowing in painful news and without being constantly deceived or mad to feel stupid.
When there are powerful movements, however, sports will remain consequential, but infinitely less so. I can tell you without a doubt that during the Civil Rights movement, for example, or the Anti-War movement, interest in professional sports waned. Not to nothing, but considerably. Sports was no different, however. Thus, sports are not responsible for diverting us via someking of addiction, but the absense of other positive alternatives makes sports, by default, so consuming.
My problems with big time sports have to do more with its political economy, with the meat market aspects, and so on...
Anyhow, I don't know whether that was clear...but I will leave it, for now.
By and large, in any event, I think we agree....
Sports, competition, and left goals....
>>> The American Communist party deserves most of the criticism it gets from today's left. But it did manage to build a quite extensive network of alternative social activity that managed to to be in some respects mainstream -- dances, sports, parties (in the non-political sense). Without taking it's coordinator bias or vanguard nonsense, I wonder if there is anything to learn form it in this regard. Jessica Mitford's work read as though she always managed to have fun.
There absolutely is much to learn. The Italian Communist party was better still, I understand.
The ideas are simple enough. All work and no play makes one a bore, and a bore isn't a very good organizer.
People need to have lives, and if the left undercuts most of their old ways of enjoying themselves, it better offer some new ones.
And so on.
People understood this somewhat, in the sixties, but not quite enough to see that it meant one had to literally create alternative institutions and spaces for socializing, playing, studying, etc.
Regretably, nowadays, the Right understands this quite well and is therefore building these religious centers that address all kinds of real needs.
Sports, competition, and left goals....
> If you approach competition as incentive for improvement but you understand that winning is not the only goal, that seems to me a good, or at least less-harmful, thing.
So the idea is we compete, but what matters is the quality of competition the interaction, not winning/losing -- even though we have to strive to win if the quality is to rise. I think this is right, but you can see how some would doubt the possibility....
> Of course, it's easy to just deal with the issue of on its simplest level. If you're going to discuss it with relation to sports, you have so many other factors to throw into the mix: peer pressure, pressure from parents, machismo, monetary gain, White Sox fans... All of these things have left a terrible, lasting impression of many of those people subjected to them.
With the right approach rewards, positive feedback, good feelings, would not accrue to victors, but to those who do better than they have in the past.
If there were going to be material rewards in races, for example, they would be doled out based on relative performance against one's prior best times, perhaps, or best finishes, maybe, but not on the actual position you finish.
It is interesting that for fast times and good races, this is actually a better incentive system....
>It's understandably difficult to make the distinction between a healthy sporting competition and abject stupidity when your best friend's father comes just shy of having a coronary simply because you threw to the wrong base.
Yes. And it is NOT because you made a mistake, per se, but due to the impact on the game....the score.
> As I've read this thread I've tried to imagine an existence without competition -- to banish the notion of competition as being some sort of Truth of Human Nature or something.
If there is scarcity, then we can make believe there isn't competition, but there is, in some sense. I think we can hope, however, to change the implications and meaning of that relationship -- making it positive, overwhelmingly, rather than often largely negative.
>I haven't been able to. I'm talking
> about even the subtlest forms of competition, like trying to top your
> own little personal successes in order to make your own life
Doesn't seem to me to be anything wrong with that...it seems like it is largely in the good ledger.
> But maybe that's the key right there: Maybe a life
> without competition is a life without any lack of satisfaction.
Sports, competition, and left goals....
> Hmmm. I understand that it would be the subject of an entirely different thread, but I'd be interested in seeing you elaborate on this. It seems to me that for every news reporter who's willing to act merely as a publicity agent for the controlling political and corporate interests, there's a beat writer who amounts to nothing more than a propagandist for a money-making sports entity. One could argue that the deception is less crucial to the everyday lives of those being deceived, but I think the deception is still there.
Well, let's just take sports, for this exchange.
Think about Pravda, say, Do you think it reported sports accurately? Not completely, no doubt. Probably there were sometimes elite interests at stake that imposed bias and even complete mistruth. But rarely, I bet.
Now consider our papers. Do they misreport scores? Quality of play as best they can discern it? Trades? And so on. Even health of players. Nope. These reports are accurate.
What is missing, of course, is the political economy of most sports -- though, because the commentators are used to just saying what they see, sometimes they venture into this realm and when they do they are often better than reporters in other sections.
No, I think the sports pages reports and even investigations and editorials are, by and large, about the best journalism in the paper. The news, that is. The business pages are also quite accurate though, of course, only relating what is consequential to the investors, and only up to a point....
The sports fan thinking about upcoming possibilities in the world of his/her favorite sport, is in position to estimate and judge rather confidently. And they do.
More on Left Vision Today
> That the 'right' seeks to further its position through the use and manipulation of power, domination and exclusion, the 'left' seeks to deconstruct the same (and deconstructs itself).
Well, I agree (supposing deconstruct means reduce or eliminate, up to doing it to ourselves.
Since the left isn't aiming to dominate, exclude, etc., why does not doing those things by definition reduce or eliminate ourselves?
If you are saying, in essence, that if you have a big bat and are willing to do so, it is easier to bludgeon than convince, this is often true. But surely it doesn't mean that we should try to bludgeon our proposed constituency.
>I feel that an awful lot of 'left' energy is channelled in to exmaining ( which you also point out later ) what is wrong, why and where but not so much effort into creating its own agenda.
Yes, but this doesn't have to be. And I don't see why it has to do with being leftist or rightist....
You could say the right just has to maintain, the left has to change, so the left has to be visionary and the right doesn't. Okay, I agree, broadly. But I don't see the impediment.
I don't see anything about being for justice, and so on and so forth, that militates against thinking about the future, how to attain it, etc.
>It seems that the 'left' is spending an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to mitigate for and fight the excesses of the 'right' without ever defining its own agenda - as a seperate issue from its relationship to the right.
I quite agree. But why?
> The 'right' bases its politics on the division between those in power and the mass of society. However it cleverly manipulates popular awareness and opinion by appearing to not target or include the mass of society in its focus for 'reform' etc ...in doing so it communicates a kindly benevolence on behalf of its 'supporters' etc.
Well maybe they try to do this but I think very very few people in seriously oppressed constituencies are fooled much. It is very different to accept that this is the best possible world and to accept that elites are benevolent. I think almost no one who is suffering thinks the latter -- many accept the former.
>The 'left' seeks to base its politics on inclusion and consensual involvement... in doing so it accounts all of society as responsible for the society we live in and in doing so appears to 'target' exactly those ( the mass of society ) that the 'right' argues it is fighting to protect.
I guess I just don't know what you mean.... I need something a bit more concrete. In the UPS strike the left seeks widespread support but challenges capital. The problem?
We have to be reactive to a point, naturally, or the right will steam roll us into oblivion and constituencies back into the nineteenth centurty -- but I agree the left is too much reactive and too little initiating....
It gives a whiney feel and it precludes a real, independent identity. We agree on these things, I think...
But beyond the agreement, by way of explanation of why, it really sounds to me like you are only saying in many ways that the left is smaller and certainly has fewer capacities. Yes. Correct. And being small is what we are trying to remedy. Does it make it hard, yes. But if is like saying about someone trying to lose weight that they weigh to much, or someone trying to get stronger that they are too weak. It repeats the problem, but doesn't really explain it, it seems to me.
What we are asking is why, given our relative size, strength, etc. we do what we do, and don't do other things. Saying the weak person trying to get strong doesn't bother with nutrition because they are weak, doesn't get us far...for example. Saying a largely visionless left doesn't develop vision because it has no vision (or is otherwise weak) is partly true, but doesn't take us forward, it seems to me.
> > > The 'right' as a reflection and necessary element of elitist power, has 'leaders' or front men - these are easy focus targets and by extention - high profile communicators. They are designed for appeal to mass consumption and yet directly to the individual. This is a very powerful and immotive 'advantage'.
Using star power and charisma has much potential -- for ill, and also, in some cases, for good. (I am not sure of its connection with vision and program and strategy, per se, however. the Jackson campaign had star power, charisma, little vision, program, strategy....) But as to this being a cause, if I ask you in American history to name famous and charismatic right wingers with a constituency, or left wingers with a constituency, actually I don't think it is so overwhelming one way or the other.
Perhaps you are saying something like ---
Since the left wants democracy, participation, no hierarchy, etc., it doesn't address vision, aims, and means because it feels that would be imposing its views and thus limiting democracy or curtailing participation or creating hierarchy.
This, I think, has some truth to it. I think it may explain, at least to a degree, why the most libertarian elements of the left -- which are the ones I most respect -- have been so negligent, I would say, about proposing viable vision and strategy, long and short term. But this view is utter nonsense, on the one hand, and thus it is hard for me to understand why wonderful people find it convincing, and it surely isn't the explanation for other sectors of the left, in any event.
> It is my assertion that the 'left' needs to move beyond the relationship its has to the right as its defining criteria. It thus needs to set its own agenda as the defining criteria for its goals and aspirations.. its own visions etc... for the future.
Your prescription is like mine, whether we get there the same way or not...so perhaps there isn't much to debate here.
>In addition to the 'left' that fights the here and now, there also has to be a 'left' that re-invents the wheel. The wheel of-course being society.
>This however is probably the largest obstacle to realisation. It is virgin territory. In addition there seems to be a prevailing opinion that to undertake such a 'vision' is pointless.. if not a waste of time. Perhaps it is this attitude combined with some of the points above that is preventing the 'left' from building cohesion , continuity, vision and strategy.
Okay, why pointless, why a waste of time? How about if we dump the rest (some of which I think I agree with some not, but which I think doesn't offer as much fruitful focus for discussion) and address WHY leftists feel vision is not worth their energy -- what have they said, in your experience, that makes you feel this is their view --rightly, I think?
More on Left Vision Today
These are very important issues we are discussing, I think...but I can't go on at such length repeatedly, and I think it is probably getting counter productive for readers to have the messages grow so long. But I will answer through this post, the part that seems to bear mostly on the topic -- making a very long response, I bet.
But when folks read this and want to reply, please start new threads, with new Subject/Topics, more focused on one or two aspects of the whole discussion, if possible. Otherwise, soon we are going to have book length posts, threads that resemble libraries, and carpel tunnel syndrome...
> >&! Regardless of who is called right and left in the US and Britain, the problem as I see it is political illiteracy. I agree with Mitch that the left is defined only by what the right does.
The "left" is too reactive and does too little initiating, I quite agree with you on that. Likewise, it is too focused on what is wrong relative to what it wants to attain. As a result, being left appears to be about opposition to the status quo or to the right, rather than about being for a new vision or social organization or values, or whatever. I quite agree.
If someone wants to challenge this part -- let's make it a separate post and explore it. Otherwise, we are taking it as agreed subtext....
And in light of this fact about us, in the U.S. politicians have called us, at times, naysayers -- the epithet sticks all too well, I think.
That said, obviously there is nothing wrong with being against injustice and the plans of madmen and thugs (the right). And there is nothing wrong with an individual focusing on this side of things. It is just that the left as a whole overwhelmingly defining oneself in this way is not very, well, positive.
Again, I think this can be agreed subtext of this exchange, and if anyone wants to challenge it, let's start a new thread to do so.
Aside: I have an article in the archive, I think, dealing with these matters pretty closely. I think I termed some of it apocalyptic politics (so one might search on that word, perhaps). But I am not sure about this reference.
>>The majority, (those in the middle and marginalised politically), can only see the fight between those defending the status quo and those who want change.
Well, yes, but I don't think that the constituencies we want/need to reach are put off by the opposition. They oppose the same things, by and large. What is missing for them, in terms of why they don't rally to this opposition in active ways, in my view, is any reason to think the opposition will lead anywhere positive. We seem futile in our protests, to them, I think.
Let me try to explain.
Suppose we began to argue that ageing or death itself were oppressive. We provided immense and eloquent tracts proving the ways these limit human options and the damage they do. We called for action. No one (save perhaps some demented doctors or morticians) would be put off by our thinking that ageing and death hurt people. They would be put off, instead, by the fact that we were whining about things that are untouchable rather than going about our lives making the best of things that are attainable. They would see us as really annoying irritants, focusing on their pain, making them wallow in it, virtually, but to no useful end.
I think this analogy, as weird as it may seem, is to the point.
The left's proclamations that "the system" (whether the economy or patriarchy or racism or whatever) is oppressive, authoritarian, unjust, etc. are not a problem for people we might potentially organize (mostly) in the sense that such people think we are WRONG about that. No. Instead, they know it themselves, already. You can see it all over popular culture, for one thing.
But just as they don't want to wallow in discussions of how painful ageing or death is (it is okay as humor or drama, but not as a constant reminder of your own plight), they also don't want to be constantly battered with how bad their jobs or incomes or homelifes or whatever, are. It seems like whining against nature and necessity, without purpose, wallowing.
Why? Because we don't offer any viable alternatives or even broadly plausible paths by which to attain better outcomes.
The above is likely contentious. But it isn't so much about why there is so little left vision produced by leftists -- which is this thread, as it is about why normal folks don't gravitate to currently offered left perspectives, something quite different.
So if folks want to explore that more, how about doing so under the topic/subject title "The left's appeal, or lack of appeal" in a new thread. You can either just start one off, or, perhaps better to avoid reptition, cut and past some content from this or other messages into a new message, starting such a new thread.
>> Political illiteracy begins with the inability to define problems correctly. The right defines things as it is in their interests to do so, the left offers its interpretation, and the majority are bored, illiterate politically, and apathetic.
I am not sure what you are saying...but as it is literally stated, I don't agree. I think the left defines PROBLEMS brilliantly. We explain foreign policy and income distribution and racial inequity and so on and so forth--at our best, accurately, correctly, and convincingly. We identify the ills (ad infinitum) and we discover underlying causes.
It isn't at the problem side of things that we are inadequate. It is at the solution side....
(Possible thread: Does the left have explanations of ills?)
> >!&Political illiteracy is an absence of critical knowledge about the major events, issues and personalities which comprise current events.
One can define it this way, I suppose. But it sounds like the cause of it is either incapacity or lack of availability, neither of which are true, I think. Most people aren't really illiterate in the sense you raise (removed from the knowledge by a vast barrier)...they just aren't focusing on the matters.
You aren't really illiterate about ageing and death (even compared to a serious student of these) so much as you just aren't focusing on them, by choice. You know the broad implications and realities of each, however. And you could pick up the rest, quick enough, if need be, up to intricacies of no real use values in any plausible scenario. Same for the public re the government, the rich, racism, and so on -- in my view. Not universally, but largely, at least in oppressed sectors. Of course there are problems and weaknesses of outlook...but you get my drift.
When there is a major strike, say, immediately, literally overnight, the vast majority of the workforce understands the role of owners, managers, and employees quite well.... Yet, in non struggle times, this knowledge seems missing. It isn't. It is back-burnered, so to speak, because in the absense of ways forward it has no utility and only causes pain.
Possible Thread: (Why aren't people political interested/active?)
>>The right minimizes, justifies, and controls the spin for mass consumption. The left strategizes, illuminates, attempts to make the most amount of information available in the shortest space of time. But always it is in response to the right, and always the overall picture is made even more complicated and therefore out of grasp from easy understanding by the average apathetic fence sitting American or Brit.
Again, our take is somewhat different. A small difference: It isn't solely in response to the right, by any means, that the left functions. It is in response to what we might call the status quo, or the forces of system maintenance, which certainly includes the Democrats, for example.
A larger difference, however, is that I don't think the problem is difficulty of analysis at all. Yes, there are academic twits on the left who create indeciperhable gibberish. But the basics of left analysis of existing relations are not only not difficult, they are conceptually quite simple and they are broadly pretty well known already by the potential constituencies of the left.
> It's a sad fact that the majority of those who are on the left talking and writng about these issues are in an intellectual class removed from Joe sixpack who has grown to accept his information in sound-bites.
While I agree that the left is too dominated by what I call the interests and styles of the coordinator class -- which is not a function of being intellectual, using one's mind -- but of class position and allegiances -- I really disagree about "the masses."
Think about this Joe Sixpack fellow you have in mind. Even in the most extreme cases of what you may be envisioning, he reads the sports pages, in all likelihood, easily as closely and probably far more so, than you read the front pages. He knows the personnel, the strategies and other intricacies of his favorite sports easily as well -- probably a whole lot better -- than you know the same for, say, Wall Street's machinations. It is not conceptually simpler, his focus, it is just different. Insofar as you are each on the sidelines viewing, what's the difference, other than that he is probably less frustrated and more entertained by his pursuit of sports news and you are more upset by your pursuit of front page news?
The problem isn't that this person's mind doesn't work, or that this person no longer has an attention span. The problem is that the left that is dominated, as you say, by people unlike him, isn't offering him something to grab onto worth -- in his view -- his attention. Neither are the front pages. (He takes for granted that they are full of lies and news by, for, and about the rich, or that makes him weak...)
And what we the left offer (a) forces him to wallow in the worst aspects of his existence, (b) treats him with utter disrespect in most instances, (c) would bring him into opposition to his peers and officials, (d) offers little or no appealing vision to him, and (e) offers little or no convincing path forward.
So he isn't too interested. Is this apathy? Or is it good sense?
---This is all related to the new thread possibilities noted earlier. It isn't so much related to what should be the focus of this thread -- why the left doesn't produce much new vision and strategy.
>The average American reads one book a year, while most of us read at least one a week. The left intellectuals are writing to themselves.
I don't know how many books the average American reads...I doubt anyone does. But I know that books are very important as sources which then have ripple effects in all manner of directions. During the Vietnam War I used to enjoy asking people on the left how many copies of Chomsky's books about the war, etc. sold. I also asked this question in later years.
The answers would generally range from a few hundred thousand to millions....
The accurate answer is about 20-25 thousand, pretty much the same as his later books have sold. The difference in impact between earlier and latter is not the size of the book's readership, but the follow-up ripple effects. The impact of a book, because it lasts, and it makes a comprehensive case that can be reproduced, doesn't always depend on the size of readership. The first few editions of Capital sold in the hundreds, then low thousands....
> The right knows this. So appealing to the worst instincts among us, political, corporate and media leaders rely on the "bread and circuses" technique to manipulate the public's perceptions.
It looks that way, I agree. And there is an element of it. But I think Bread and Circuses are highly misunderstood.
Notice what what you are saying says about us. The less real and valid and worthy the thing that is attracting people is, the more pathetic our capacity to communicate with the people clinging to it must be. Because look at how little they are clinging to rather than paying attention to this new thing we are offering....a left perspective, etc.
That said, I think that actually we are offering virtually nothing at this point. I also think the "bread and circuses" offer a degree of dignity and entertainment unavailable from any other side of life, and thus are sought and appreciated -- sensibly.
In the 1960s there came a calling a left offering analysis of war, foreign policy, the plight of women, the situation of young people, consumerism, racism, poverty. All these things and more were brought to visibility and a new realization was offered -- they are not personal faults but systemic.
This, THEN, was truly new and revelatory. And it grabbed people, very widely. Yes, our relative lack of resources to reach out was a limitation, but the message WAS of huge interest to really large constituencies, once they began to hear it. And it led to huge anger, and thus motion.
In the decades since the message has changed marginally even though it has long since been heard, imbibed, and become a part of general background understanding. Yes, of late, there has been backsliding -- after twenty five years of onslaught the right is making some headway bringing back the feelings of personal sources of people's pains, rather than social (and some parts of the left are even abetting it).
But, over this whole time, to me -- exaggerating a bit, but to make the point -- what has been present, widely, is understanding of what is wrong, and how bad it is and what has been absent, widely, is any belief that better outcomes and systems are attainable or even conceivable.
And the left, in this context, has been hammering away with the material that is much less needed, and providing virtually nothing re what is more needed.
And so we flounder...
Possible thread: Bread and Circuses -- the appeal?
> There is no left leader supported by a movement and think tanks, offering possible constituents new and different models.
There is IPS and the Food First group, and some others to, in fact. There are limited resources, fiscal, though. But the part that you are really right about is that what resources we do have are not offering possible constituents NEW AND DIFFERENT MODELS...largely only repeating old analyses.
> There are so many problems exacerbated by capitalism, that the infighting between us because of the lack of vision and agreement amongst us as to which issues are the most pivotal and most important to deal with to advance us all, is often self-defeating.
> It takes an inordinate amount of energy to show large communities of politically illiterate people that the consequences of such individual materialism is the destruction of community and habitat. Take it from me, a person who has knocked on countless thousands of doors across the US.
Well, with all due respect, I think that everyone knows this already -- in the way I described above. But no one wants to say it, admit it, wallow in it. If people don't know that what we have is broken, that it breeds contempt and hate and pain, then it makes sense, arguably, to spend lots and lots of effort trying to convince them this IS the case, and to show why.
In the 1960s each person indeed thought their pains and limits were their own, due to personal inadequacy, while everyone else was doing just fine. When the left communicated that NO, it was a social outcome, there was a cause that could be fought, people began to do so. And people learned this, partly from the left partly from their own experiences.
Now people know everything is broken. That would good non-elites get in life they get not because of the system, but despite it, and so on. But they also feel nothing better is possible, and, even if it were, the odds against winning it are insurmountable.
So what is their response?
If you have to work each week you don't want to spend you not working time listening to or eloquently enunciating all the pains and indignities you go through. And it is nice to at least think that there is something good about the system as a whole that you are contributing to, some greater gain. So you cling to all that -- unless, of course, you are in a bar with friends, railing away at the rich and the powerful, or you are at a movie or eading a popular novel and watching their machinations.
The time when you don't want to admit that things suck is precisely and only when you are talking with an organizer. Why? Becuase if you admit it then, it seems like you should do something about it--but you don't think you can, and you think the costs of trying are too high, so you just avoid that depressing confrontation.
> >!& Oh come on! It's been said in this thread and the last! Why do you agree?
This is in answer to my asking WHY the left avoids vision and strategy.
NO, I think it has been repeated that it is the case that the left is sparce on vision and strategy, as I said in the original question. But the explanation for why -- I haven't seen it.
And that is what should be in messages that continue this thread -- more on left vision today -- please. Or perhaps comments about the specific visions offered,I suppose.
> Short of being a soothesayer, and being able to offset the complete dumping of Keynesianism, for Volckerism, how could the left have presented its case to Joe sixpack that the logic of political conservatism means balancing the budget on the backs of those who can least afford austerity? That this would affect Joe sixpack and his family as well?
You ask, I think, how the left could have gotten the working class to turn out in far greater numbers against Reagan.
It just isn't my question.....
I think people don't vote because they know that -- and are broadly right that -- the choices are relatively marginal for them, and hard to pin down accurately in any event. Clinton has been rather like Reagan...
When they do vote, it may well be largely on personality, etc. Why not? You hav to have this guy in your face for four years. May as well be personable.
I am serious. Why not pay serious attention to issues. Because the issues lie. Because the issues are other people's issues. Because the issues are painful and denegrating, without prospect for gain.
Possible threads: efficacy of voting, or why vote or not vote, etc.
> >!& Huh? The problem is, how do left intellectuals and psuedo-intellectuals join hands and make themselves understood to people who are in survival mode right up to their eyeballs?
What is all this stuff about "intellectual"? The left is some writers, sure, but it is mostly people who are organizing in communities, unions, neighborhoods, electoral areans, and so on. They are all intellectuals -- meaning they use their minds. It is a useless term.
If you are saying how do the people on the left who identify themselves with an elite class communicate -- I think they have to look at themselves a bit and try to transcend some attitudes and views.
But the biggest problem re communicating vision and strategy isn't that the communication has been weak or muddled or obscure, but that there has been so little to communicate.
Possible threads: good and bad intellectuals... (or) what is an intellectual, etc.
>How do we bridge the gap and explain to those who who think it is their God given right as individuals to accumulate all that they can on credit and with their paychecks? How do we show that we are feeding the rich, impoverishing others, and have to begin giving up acquiring in order that others may live at all?
This could go on forever and is going to need different threads. Here we have serious disagreements, perhaps affecting the above discussion, perhaps not. I don't think these are the things that need communicating, by and large.... We don't even seem to have quite the same audience in mind.
> >!&Introspection is necessary to see what the contradictions are and then begin to remove them.
Indeed. So introspect. For this thread, for example, among all the people on the left that you know, how many have spent any significant time thinking about vision for kinship, race, economics, or politics. If few, why? If many, what distinguishes them from the movements and writers of the past few decades?
RE this message, I have run out of steam...I have many more messages to get to, among other things, and it is Sunday, no less.
Please -- if anyone has replies to this message, insofar as it is directed at me, try to break it into manageable chunks and topics. I have suggested some possible ways, or you can take other approaches....
Let's start a few threads, not try to do everything in this one, Okay?
More on Left Vision Today
As to what I have left out...if you want me to try to relate to it, how about setting it up as a new thread somehow, also?
I am really not sure what you and I are talking about, any longer, to be honest. I will try to react a bit below...but I think we need to try to hone in, if we can. To make this workable...
> **Ok, How do you feel,that in rejection of the dominant methods of communication, without a working replacement, the 'left' is able to function?
What? No one on the left I am aware of says we should not communicate via talking, speeches, leaflets, newspapers, newsletters, mail, email, magazines, web pages, books, radio, video...and anything else anyone can think of. Not one person. No one says we should avoid outreach through mainstream outlets, when available or when we can pressure it. And most agree that we should create our own, as well. The emphasis on the two paths differs.
>Is this not part of your argument for engaging in attempts to define possible blueprints or models/ideas for a fledgling society? That we need some idea of what viable alternatives there are in order to move forward?
Well, sort of. What I argue, which is not generally agreed, surprisingly, perhaps, is that we need shared reasonably rich and developed vision to inform our analysis by uncovering otherwise not so visible weaknesses in the current reality, we need it to help hone our values, to prevent ourselves from being perceived as and actually becoming nothing but naysayers, to provide hope and desire re our futures, and particularly to orient our strategic choices so they point where we want to arrive.
>I feel that 'rejection without replacement' is preventing the left from communicating and envisioning its own agenda and goals.
Mitch...rejection without replacement means what? It seems to mean criticising and disavowing existing structures as unworthy, on the one side -- and not offering up viable, desirable aims, on the other. But if that is it means, to then say that that prevents the left from communicating its own goals is just say that not offering goals prevents communicating goals. It is redundant.
If you mean we aren't communicating vision and strategy because we don't have any means to communicate them (which the opening seemed to suggest) that is simply false and also doesn't bear on the question I am asking, I think. That we have less means of communication than we should have and need to have is true. But we do have plenty of means, nonetheless. We aren't communicating much vision and strategy with what we do have because we don't have much vision and strategy to communicate. You and I, at least, and in this thread, don't have to keep repeating that that is a problem. We agree on that.
> I feel that the 'waste of timers' have an argument to a point. However, I also feel that they are subverting valid , relevant discussion and interaction, taking re-invention to the door-step of reality only and then backing away, simply because one is not able to ensure success (in the absence of opportunity on a mass scale) breaks and interferes with the next logical and conceptual steps of translation to communication, envisioning , strategy and reality.
Yes -- if I understand you right -- that people say that pursuing vision is a waste of time because (a) no better vision is possible, or (b) we couldn't attain it anyhow, does certainly impede pursuing vision. Obviously.
But there is always opposition to any innovation or path. The question is why is it so widespread, even on the left? Why is there this opposition? And why isn't it easily swept away by presenting good and useful vision and strategy....
Also, what is the valid part of the "its a waste of time" to develop vision position, in your opinion? I know you have tried to explain, but I am not getting it. Maybe others are. Just answer that single question, in a paragraph or two, so designated, and I will try to understand.
>This missing element or lack of serious consideration for possible future concepts and constructions appears not only to prevent the 'left' from engaging with itself, filling that vacuum of cohesion and continuity, but also defining its indentity beyond its relations to the 'right'. Validity of their argument is only that we cant know for sure, no we cant .. but what kind of logic is that for not trying ? Perhaps the 'waste timers' do not have the courage of their convictions? No, I think it is linked to a lack of clarity about what the re-invented wheel looks like and how possible it is to define it in abstract. I also feel that until we have clarified the common ground and in doing so agree at least on some aspects and principles of our goals and visions, we will never have so much as a penny farthing let alone the foundations of a house.
Okay, agreed. That is the premise of this discussion. Having more shared vision and strategy would be good, wonderful. Now what? Why don't we. More, why don't most activists easily and quickly see that this is a grave and pressing need? Or, alternatively, why are you and I wrong....
I don't know what ganas is and your very brief comment didn't turn me on much...I admit.
Again, the agreed basis for the question in this thread is that there isn't much coherent unified vision, aim, or strategy, and that, more, the organizers, writers, publishers, activists, and rank-and-file of the left nonetheless aren't spending much time addressing this absense. And the question is, why?
> ** The impediment to the vision is the absence of the means by which to communicate and maintain it.
Okay, this is an answer but I don't buy it. Perhaps I am being dense, but it doesn't explain anything to me. We have periodicals, radio shows, organizing projects, study groups, research centers, TV production companies, vast numbers of organizations and projects, even some think tanks, web sites, and so on.
Is it less than we need for outreach. Absolutely.
BUT, it is full of analysis of what is wrong, facts pointing up injustices, reports of horrors, explanations of systemic causes of this and that oppression, plus some accounts of fighting back on issues -- and it is almost devoid of positive institutional aspirations, even clear enunciations of positive values, and strategy.
There is enough communicative means, in other words, to cause people to generate a near endless stream of materials about what's wrong, why, and so on. Yet little on what we want, how to attain it....
So, the questions exists, why so little vision and strategy?
It isn't a question about why we don't get across the vision and strategy that we develop more widely. I know the answer to that...
It is a question about why we develop so little in the first place...why we have so little vision and strategy to try to communicate. And why our times goes, instead, almost universally on the left, to analysis of ills and, less so, very short term aims and tactics.
And I am talking about all sides of life -- economics, yes, but also poliitcs, government, gender relations, procreation and socialization, international relations, what have you....
Let's see if some other folks are willing to weigh in, at this point.....
Moore, Teamsters, etc.
This is a message brought over here from PollittViews since it addresses me and I don't want to take too much room up over there...Peter is replying re my views on Moore's thesis, etc. etc. etc. and I hope he is okay with my answering here.
> Take for instance the prole Ron Carey. I think the reasons he rose as a leader had little to do with his views on sports, etc. If he was effective doing the things that mattered, it wouldn't have made much of a difference if he was condecending in the ways sysop describes.
Well, aside from everything else, how do you know such a thing, I wonder. Or even what it means. Carey, and union leaders generally, are often very far from their actual membership, from organizing, etc. They are often just bureaucrats fulfilling bureaucratic ends having little to do with propelling a working class agenda. But, for what it is worth, I suspect you are quite wrong about Carey in particular and that if Carey had a demeanor that reflected views of the sort that Moore and I are criticizing, he would not, in fact, have won the first time, even.
And without a doubt, if someone running for union office has a bunch of organizers with those traits, they are going nowhere...would be my guess. But since that is all guessing and since I think you will make your point below without Carey, let's wait for that....
>For me, what Marx said about religion and its adherents more or less applies to sports, consumerism, line dancing, etc.
Marx, at least as his comments are widely interpreted, got it half right and half wrong for religion, and that has been a problem ever since -- and now ditto for sports, consumerism, line dancing, etc., where it is only about a quarter right, if that. (Marx's actual comments are quite different than the widespread view of them, calling religion a haven in a heartless world, etc. reveals that it is popular because it meets real needs unmet elsewhere...but that is beside the point)
In 1968 there was a Leninist Sect that decided--I kid you not-- that having sex was a diversion from political activism and revolution. They came out against it. Clever folks.
You might as well say wood working, cooking, any hobby, exercising, playing ball, watching the opera or symphony, and anything else other than actually somehow adding directly to political activism is diversionary. It is true in a simplistic sense, and so what.
Marx had a point that made his claim more interesting -- which wasn't that religion took up time, (or people were tricked into it) but that its actual character and practice imposed on people beliefs contrary to being politically involved, even as it helped them get by in difficult straits, etc.
This inducing of anti-political beliefs is not true for any of the other things mentioned, including sports, line dancing, etc., to my knowledge. The analogy collapses....
More, Marx as interpreted was only partly right. In our own time, for example, in our hemisphere, the church and religion generally have sponsored and been the source of many political and activist sentiments, civil rights, internationalist activism, etc. Disproportionately so, in fact.
>And this is when we start talking about alienation, fullfilment, and the Politics of Meaning, which I don't feel qualified to discuss.
Oh, I suspect you are. I don't think it is rocket science, as the saying goes....
> But I will say this. I wouldn't blame an organizer for not regularly attending bingo contests, the Ice Capades, Las Vegas lounge acts, monster truck pulls, etc, if she did not enjoy them.
Peter, this implies that I or Moore would blame a each particular person for these choices. Having never done any of these things, I would have to wake up each day and castigate myself. But that just reduces the exchange to silliness, and it isn't silly.
What Moore is saying, which I think is apt, is that the LEFT AS A WHOLE, not this or that particular individual, is not only not involved with but is actively hostile to much, indeed perhaps most, of working people's enjoyments and pastimes and culture. And often displays disdain for the choices, and, implicitly or explicitly, for the people making the choices.
This comment about the left as a whole could be true or false, but your comment is just not relevant to it because your comment is about a hypothetical individual.
If your chosen individual gives off anti-working class values and "vibes" then yes, he or she is likely to suffer as an organizer in working class communities and will certainly be told as much, by them. That is a different matter.
Suppose I said (ignorantly) that the left is oblivious to the Third World and international relations and that it was critically important to rectify that imbalance. Would that justify your saying in rebuttal that you wouldn't blame someone for not being focused on the Third World and international relations? No. Of course not. Because what was raised wasn't that EVERYONE has to do it, but rather why do so few do it. You might rejoin, o the other hand, hold on, that's false. Most leftists in fact are sensitive to international issues and the Third World and many focus on it. And you could give evidence....etc. That would be relevant to the claim, in fact refute it, and I would have to recant. Or you could say hold on, it doesn't matter if what you say is true or false.... (and you may be saying that in this case, I am not sure).
Same with the Moore related cultural discussion.
The first point is not that everyone on the left or even everyone who is going to be an organizer in workplaces or working class communities has to like each and every popular working class cultural preference -- but rather why do so few leftists like ANY of them? And why does the left give off an ambiance that says that to like any of them is bad, witless, uncultured, dumb, manipulated, no less?
The claim is that this makes the left a non-welcoming place for working people and that it also distorts left program insofar as it infects values and ideas. (And that it reflects ignorance of why the choices are made in the first place, as well.)
The second point is the application of this to an individual, which is less important than the global case. It says that for an individual organizer, other things equal, to have little culturally in common with working people, to like little of what they like, is going to make organizing more difficult -- and, more, to be disdainful of their choices and preferences pretty much across the board, will probably make it nigh on impossible.
Finally, Moore and I are both arguing, as I made clear in another post, that an undercurrent of people's criticisms of these various tastes, preferences, and choices of working people is a lack of understanding of working people's lives and the SENSIBLENESS of their choices. Also, even, an actual class antipathy to them.
>I wouldn't call her a bad organizer for the single reason of bad-mouthing these activities.
What does bad mouthing them mean? No single thing defines anyone. A movement that disparages people as being naive or stupid or hoodwinked because they like to shop, say, or because they like sports, is -- I have to say, quite out of touch with the real world. It takes trivial analyses, true enough, to unwarranted conclusions.
Bad mouthing fans for being fans: not wise, not humane, not sensitive, not informed. Or so it seems to me.
Why not bad mouth people for reading the NYT, say, or for reading novels, or for listening to music of any kind, or for tinkering with computers, or for playing bridge, and so on?
>Now, if an organizer loved doing these things, more power to him or her. Basically, I shouldn't feel guilty that I'm elitist for not enjoying figure skating. Moore's saying in not so many words that I should and that one of the main reasons we don't have a movement is that I don't know Katrina Witt from Kristi Yamaguchi.
I honestly think Peter, that if you look at what he is saying and what I am saying, and stop thinking about it in terms of just yourself alone, as if anyone is directing a commentary at a particular individual, but in terms of overall balances within social movements, you may take it all quite differently.
>Sysop, maybe you could type up a PC list of what we shouldn't disparage.
How about not disparaging me via comments like this, hmmm.
You will agree, I am willing to bet, that a movement which overwhelmingly has preferences and mannerism and tastes that are white -- in music, in sports, in vernaculars, in interpersonal manners, in everything -- isn't going to be real comfortable or attactive for blacks, latinos, etc.
And you will agree, I think, that a movement that has vibes and culture and style reminescent of a high school male gym locker isn't going to be real comfortable or attractive to women.
So if people form no nukes movements, or anti war movements, or green movements, or labor movements, or ecology movements, or womens or anti racist movements with either or both of these attributes, they are going to be flawed in ways that need fixing.
And I bet you would agree with the wisdom, in those cases, of someone arguing that the overwhelming cultural and styleistic biases of the movements were a serious problem, and that when manifested in individuals it was a detriment for some purposes.
And if the movements were sparcely populated with the disparaged constituencies, you would see it as supporting evidence for the case. And so on.
And you wouldn't say back to the person pointing out the race biases, hey, I wouldn't blame someone for not liking jazz. You would know that though you in fact wouldn't blame an individual for that, it is irrelevant to the case at hand. And you wouldn't say back to someone criticizing the macho movement, hey, why not draw up a list of things we can't disparage lest women get annoyed, again because it is irrelevant.
Are the analogies valid? It depends on whether the perception of Moore's and mine that our movements are overwhelmingly dominated by what I call coordinator class attitudes and styles is true. If it is, then the analogy is strong, it seems to me. If not, then not.
More on Moore and sysop
Gabriel,I have no problems whatsoever with a good boycott campaign. For me the archtype is the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But a broad based campaign focused on some specific target with clearly enunciated politics and means of solidarity, is VERY VERY different than a shotgun attitude about consuming generally.
The same person who rode the busses earlier, could be the energy and militant sparkplug of a bus boycott, then riding again once it is over--quite sensibly.
It is a collective act, with, as you say, real prospects for effect.
If we -- meaning the left, the people, whatever you want -- were in position to do massive and even broadly aimed boycotts of consumer goods, be it Nike or cars, or food, or whatever, sure.
But that is different than people developing an ATTITUDE about consuming and consumption (or at least about whatever they choose not to consume and others do consume), if you get my drift.
But here is a key thing.
The reason that various attitudes and tones are offensive to many working people ISN'T the direct belief they embody. If a working class person's working class neighbor happens to not like country music, or sports, or is not buying this or that product, or is vegetarian, nine times out of ten, no problem at all, I would bet.
The reason these things are problems coming from leftists, and in particular not even individual leftists but the left as a broad perceived thing, is because they are symptomatic of something more -- conveyed as well in mannerisms, styles, and even political and social attitudes.
The more is our class identifications, aspirations, and habits.
If you just take the above and re write it for race or gender, changing the constituencies and the symptomatic behaviors/beliefs, etc. you can see that the logical structure of the claims is perfectly sensible. Indeed, the argument is one almost everyone on the left understands and respects and believes applicable regarding race and sex, more in some context less in others.
The easy way to see what Moore is saying, I think, and certainly what I am saying, is to realize that it is basically the same claims, but now for class -- where the opposition isn't capital and labor (with some exceptions progressive and left projects and movements do not give off and embody capitalist preferences and presuppositions, etc.) but coordinator and labor.
By coordinator class I mean people who monopolize positions of decision making influence over their own circumtances and the conditions and circumstances of others, who do mostly conceptual and empowering labor, who have credentials (and monopolized) and by virtue of these things have quite high incomes, prerogatives, and so on.
The class difference between workers and coordinators isn't based on differential ownership of property but, instead, on differential access to, possession of, and control over information, skills, and the mechanisms of decision making power.
The claim is that that left in the U.S. has for decades been largely defined by the tastes and preferences of people who are by their socialization and often their current roles, coordinator in style, habit, taste, and in many beliefs and values -- however radical on many other fronts they may be.
One response is, okay, so? It is good that they/we are all doing left stuff. When workers build left movements our tastes and biases will be swamped.
Well enough. BUT, if we continually form the ecology movements, the no nukes movements, the anti-war movements, the women's movements, even to a degree the civil rights movements, and so on -- and if workers moving leftward are continually turned off by these due to their class biases, then there is big problem.
That is the claim.
Class and the Left
Given all the discussion about lifestyle, tastes, class attitudes and whatnot else -- in the anarchism forum, the pollittviews forum, and in here -- I thought I would try to create a new thread, starting over, to explore some associated issues.
So here is a broad set of claims about which I am hoping folks will be interested in discussing: (1) how true or false are they, and (2) what implications, if any, do they have?
(1) Movements in the U.S. aimed to have large-scale progressive effects need to incorporate diverse constituencies, particularly people of color, women, and working people.
(2) Movements which appear to these constituencies as owned or defined by groups other than themselves, or even hostile to them, are not going to be very effective at reaching out. Thus, a movement that is very male in make up, and in tone, values, assumptions, ways of interacting, cultural attachments, is going to be unwelcoming and unempowering to women and will likely attract and hold them far less well, for that reason. Ditto for the same kind of dynamic around race or class.
(3) If we have movements -- ecology, peace, union, consumer, or whatever else -- that are flawed in such a way -- repelling key constituencies by virtue of their cultural and social and styleistic definitions -- the movement will likely also be pretty weak, in practice, regarding that constituency's interests, even if it claims its intentions to be otherwise. (think again of white and male movements and their claims vis a vis rae and gender, as against the reality of their comprehension of these and programs regarding them.
(4) Thus, a problem and if it was serious about winning, as well as ethically sound, such a movement would presumably want its members to become more knowledgeable of the excluded and disempowered constituency, to incorporate respect for and celebration of many of that constituencies themes and priorities, and so on. This would be partly a personal task, carried out differently by different people depending on their circumstnaces, and so on, and partly a collective task.
(5) By and large all the above is understood and has been acted on over a period of many years, sometimes less effectively sometimes move effectively, vis-a-vis race and gender. Vitually no one thinks it wise to build movements or movement projects in which there is male or white language, behavior, and taste as a matter of course, and expecially in which there is implicit or explicit disdain for what isn't male or white. No one thinks it wise to build movements of projects in which we incorporate in our institutions the very roles, norms, and structures that typically enforce racism and sexism. And, as best we can, we all agree that it is a good thing to work against these problems.
(6) Once, however, this wasn't so for race and gender. Entreaties about the movement being too white or too male in its assumptions and ways were taken as personal attacks, as without bearing, and so on. We got beyond that, or many did, anyhow.
(7) Now, in the U.S. at least, the analogous problem continues to exist, in a very strong form, re class. If we look at the U.S. as, broadly, the working class, the capitalist class, and a coordinator class of conceptual, empowered actors with a relative monopoly on many decision making levers and skills, in between, and if we indicate the tastes and preferences and styles associated, broadly with these clases (as we might do for genders or races, etc.) and we then look at the left and ask who is it like, the answer will be, overwhelmingly, the coordinators -- both in actual roots and, more important, in current mindsets and behaviors. Thus, the left is largely unwelcoming and unempowering to working people, and we have the problem spoken of above, but for class.
(8) However, unlike with race or gender, where the problem is, due to hard work, still not solved but at least far less extreme than in the past, and, at least, admitted and addressed, the class problem is largely denied as something worthy of attention. This, even though many of our organizations and institutions not only embody the culture of coordinators and their values in many forms, but even the actual organizational structures that enfore class divisions and subordination.
(9) Now, in light of all the above, what is the flap about taste in music, sports, etc., that is turning up in the forums? It is an expression, I think, of all this... important in its own right, but even more important precisely because of its connection to that deeper problem.
(10) Okay you may say, but so what? Surely the solution isn't for people to be other than who they are? Surely someone with a faculty job, or some other relatively coordinatorish position and background, should make believe they are something other than what they are? Hmmmm. Think back to the race and gender example. Imagine someone saying surely the white person should not make believe he or she is black, or the man should not make believe he or she is woman. It is a non-sequitor. For individuals, and, more, for the movement to become open to, aware of, involved with, embracing of the history and concerns and ways of the previously largely excluded and disempowered constituency is the point. There is no call to be other than who one is. There is a call (as with the race and gender instances) to broaden and enrich who one is and to broaden and enrich the membership of one's projects, and so on..... None of it is easy. But it is impossible if it is deemed not worth doing.
(12) Well, but why not just wait until workers create their own movements? Then taht movement will welcome and empower workers, and the left as now constituted can't. First, imagine an anti-war movement saying this as a justification for not fighting sexism internally, or racism. Yes, the emergence of new women's and new civil rights movements were critical, and the emergence of a new labor moverment will be too, but it makes no sense to want to build a peace movement, an ecology movement, etc., and to foreswear trying to make it welcoming and empowering to all key constituencies, in particular. Second, if these types of movements exist -- anti-war, ecology, and so on -- and working people encounter them, and are put off by them, the natural outcome isn't to go form their own but to identify the left, the politics, with the atittudes dismissed. A horrible result...
Left and Classism
On 01/16/98 16:18:23, Gar Lipow wrote:
> You are making one valid point; the problem is that it has just been made recently with extreme hostility and mixed with an invalid one.
> The valid point is that to eliminate classism in the left, and welcome working class people, we need work against our own class prejudices (and even if we are from working class backrounds we may well have picked some up) including hostility to sports, different kinds of music you label as working class, what you consider working class food etc... We should include fun as a big part of our organizing, and make sure it is fun that appeals to the tastes of the vast majority of the population.
I am not sure if you are getting what I am saying, quite, or not. Maybe. It is hard for me to express, and for you too, no doubt. And thus the possibility for all kinds of miscommunication...
Suppose some Black people are criticizing the left for being white -- in 1968, let's say. They talk about the atni-war movement being unwelcoming, unempowering, dominated by white assumptions, etc.
Now someone might say, well, okay, some truth there and we need to get into some jazz, some blues... The person saying that might be getting it, or maybe not. But the Black critics could easily react very negatively, feeling that it was being trivialized.
This is not easy, to deal with, on either side, that is. But there is a big difference between the two sides...they are hierarchically arrayed in society.
> I think we have witnessed this as taken one step farther into the realm of classist stereotyping. Imagine a white group back in the fifties, deliberately working to purge themselves of racism against African Americans. As part of this process, they proclaim that from now on watermelon and fried chicken will be included in all group sponsered meals. Would you not conclude the group was guilty of extemely racist stereotyping?
It would be utterly moronic, of course. Although in response to criticism many white radicals scoffed that that was what they were being asked to do...reducing a serious issue to demeaning nonsense.
> I can imagine this same group announcing that anyone who did not get with the new program of watermelon and fried chicken eating are a bunch of racists, and had better get out of politics because they are contributing nothing to the struggle of African-Americans.
But you see, this has never happened...becuase you have made it nonsense. But if you said that the blacks said that the white community had to become aware of and knowledgeable of the conditions and beliefs and preferences of black people, and that they needed to look at their organizations, and policies, and overall tone and content to ensure that it was welcoming to and empowering for diverse cultures...it would be analogous, and fair.
>(I'm a little worried that even using this example is racist -- but I really think that what has gone on these forums recently is comparable to this.)
But that is because you and others keep focusing on some particular taste or other example, and not addressing -- often anyhow -- the issue behind the tastes and styles -- or you address it, and even agree -- but then revert.
Why is it, do you think, that I don't hear Michael the way you and others do. Why don't I take it as a personal affront, even though a good part of what he says applies well to me?
> I think when someone whose name I will not mention, but who has the initials of Michael Moore, starts talking about "Joe Sixpack" (a classist term itself in my opinion, though not as bad as "redneck") and saying that to get on with him (I notice it is never a her) you need to become a beer drinkin, hamburger chompin' , baseball lovin, bowling man -- well this is classist stereotype every bit as bad as the racist stereotype I reminded people of above.
But it is only one way of hearing Moore, I believe. I don't think he is saying that, I don't hear that. You can't imagine the ways in which people, many good and serious people, heard black militants...
He, and I, am saying that if a movement denigrates lots of a what a community does it is going to have a hard time appealing to that community, and other similar things, which I think are just completely uncontestable...
> And when it is presented with extreme hostility, I'm going to be more interested in telling the hostile person to shove it sideways than in listening to any valid points they may have.
Well, I think the hostility wasn't all that extreme, in fact, for someone stumbling on a forum in which he has been roundly attacked, even including his personal life choices, his integrity, etc. etc. Go back and read it all.... MOre, while his comments weren't gentle, I agree, they were at least directed at words actually written, not at people's (unknown) life choices. But I agree that things are not running on a good plane over in Pollittviews, though it is certainly a vital discussion if people can stick with it...
Also, when someone is railing against forms and styles of oppression -- even if (and in this case I don't think it is so) without sympathy, without understand, and perhaps even kneejerk in your eyes, and on and on, flailing back is rarely going to be a constructive course.
>I guess all this stuff about trying to pursuade people and be weloming does not apply when you are trying to correct mistakes by leftists.
Well, I don't want to argue for being abrasive...I think it is rarely wise--though sometimes nothing less works. But there is a very very very large difference between, let's say, a movement that claims to be collectively progressive, and which denigrates women or blacks (for example) by its internal assumptions about what they can and will do, their norms and styles, and so on -- and a woman or black who gets angry and attacks that movement. Neither may be optimal, but one is defending elite structures and interests (even if in ignorance rather than self servingly) and the other is trying to open doors and remove obstacles.
I think this holds quite the same around class.
Also, the fact is that Michael is usually so unabrasive that I think it defeats his efforts. At the Media and Democracy Congress he made the points made in the Nation Article but did it with so much humor that people were rolling in the aisles. As a result, I think, it didn't stick as much as it needed to...
I think he walked into what felt to him like a buzz saw of attack... here.
> I have no problem with the strongest critism of my ideas. I can tolerate criticism of my behavior (even though being human, I wll never enjoy it -- I do want to know when my actions are wrong.) I doubt that I will ever respond favorably to personal attacks on me -- and that includes personal attacks on groups to which I belong.
This sounds like, to me, a mistake. What's a "personal attack" and what isn't is often part of what's at issue. And who gets to decide that? When women said in 1968 that the left in the U.S. was grossly sexist many men took it as a kind of personal and unwarranted attack, destructive and kneejerk and juvenile and so on, rather than a very difficult to enunciate and much needed criticism and effort at positive change. Those men were horribly wrong, I believe, but felt absoulute righteous in their reactions, at least for a time.
> I think the key to having a group that welcomes working people is twofold. 1) Put them in charge.
They will put themselves in defining roles when involved. But they won't become involved if it means entering the parallel for them of a woman being asked to join a movement that feels like a male locker room, or a black to join a movement that feels like an uptown country club.
>In a democratic group where the majority rules, this means recruiting enough working people that they constitute a majority, and then making sure your group is really non-hierachal and democratic.
Well I quite agree that this is a very wonderful way to go. But you have to have something that is attractive to join for this recruiting effort to work.
And what hierarchies are we going to eliminate...this takes the whole thing further but what I think is really at root of a lot of this is, in fact, the difference between coordinator class values and norms and working class values and norms, and the hierarchy between. The fact is, there are very very few folks in the U.S. left who think this hierarchy is wrong.
>At this point the values of your group will be working class, because your group is controlled by real working class people
Imagine whites or men saying about the anti-war movement well, no, we don't have to consider whether this thing is a reflection of our narrow and as yet unliberated values and preferences, all we have to do is welcome more women and blacks into it and then it will come to reflect them. We'll have to deal. If meant sincerely it is an okay notion, except that when they go to recruit, no one is listening...
> But this does NOT mean mechanically deciding that country music is working class, and rock'n'roll is elite or that anyone who does not enjoy monster truck rallies is an effete snob. That is classist and eliteist in it's own right.
Different classes do segregate into different tastes and preferences, on average, as do genders and cultural communities. This should be no surprise. It is true. And it isn't denegrating to notice it unless one thinks that one is superior to another...
See a lot of my criticism is founded in precisely the fact that the left's distaste is disproportionately expressed for things working class identified, but not for things coordinator class identified (though the latter is the elite, and the former is trying to make its way in a hostile oppressive world).
But, additionally, I don't like Monster rallies, I don't much like country music I am an athiest, and I don't think Michael is going to call me elitist because of it. Why do you? Why do others?
But, if those tastes and many more are symptoms of class bias and even class snobbery, so to speak, that is something else again. This is often the case for individuals, I believe -- something we can only judge for ourselves if we know ourselves and others in question -- but, more important, it is so for the movement as a whole, I think, which is in its definitions very dominated by its own elites.
I first began to understand, such as I do, some of this stuff via personal experiences and I want to relate a couple. It will take some space, but what the hey....
Story One: I taught for sometime in prisons. In one, which was for lifers but was low security, I could literally have taken folks out with me but none would go, knowing that they would be hounded and caught, and then sent to high security, the threat of which was the deterrent to their otherwise pretty simple escape--carrot and the stick works not because people are tricked and dumb, but because they precisely understand. In the prison just a notch above that in security, I was sometimes able to eat with the prisoners. I taught political economy, etc. and became close and trusted by many of the students...and class discussions were very very real, whether about racism among the whites or homophobia among the blacks, and so on. Anyhow, one night at dinner I am sitting and I ask my tablemates, all black, why they don't mix with the whites, at the all white tables. They wouldn't be turned away. There was no official impediment to mixing. No cercion, no pressure. No official penalty of any kind. And, moreover, everyone there knew that divide and conquer was a tool that was used to make their lives less rewarding, even in prison, than they might have been, in a variety of ways by the guards and warden. And this guy just looked across at one of the white tables and said, if you were us would you sit there? For that matter, what are you doing over here?
What he was saying wasn't that the outrageous racists were a problem. They were relatively easy to deal with, at least in this context. It was the overall universally shared assumptions and culture and style at the white tables that wasn't even up for question, that wasn't even understood to be present by the whites, he and his mates just didn't want to have to eat with, even at the cost it imposed.
Story two: I taught working people in night school for awhile also. Again political economy, etc. We would go through capitalism, and so on. Again, a lot of trust, I believe, and very serious exchange. The anger that would surface from folks toward capitalists was quite modest, rarely exploding into passionate exchange. But when we talked about professionals, lawyers, doctors, teachers -- the people these folks fervently wished for their sons and daughtors to become -- things were different. There was unbelievably powerful anger. It was much like blacks talking about whites as the time of the emergence of black power, or women about men at the time of the emergence of the women's movement thirty years back... And it was similar in its character as well. (It is the sentiment that right-wingers use when they call the left intellectual and effete and use that to galvanize opposition to the left.) Students commented passionately on the way those people -- coordinators -- carry themselves, on the way walking down the street they look at you and they expect you to move aside rather than vice versa, without their even knowing it, on the way people interrupt, discount your words, and so on and so forth.
It was quite like women collectively discovering the subtle but overwhelmingly powerful part of sexism, not the battering and rape, but the door opening, interrupting, and all the rest.
I can't reproduce the dynamics I saw, repeatedly. I don't suffer the experience as the students did. But I have to tell you that when this emotion does explode in the U.S. into self conscious visibility, hopefully with a left content -- and I very much hope that it will -- Michael Moore will seem like a pussycat.
> 4) I do not think it is what you are saying. But I think it has been said -- and in the strongest terms. In continuing this discussion just remember -- you are not starting from zero. You are starting from a large negative number.
We disagree. The large negative number, so to speak, is the existence of thirty years of movements that have been unwelcoming to and even hostile to working people, in my opinion. Movement and progressive projects that accept oppressive class norms as CORRECT, no less, as exemplified by utilizing them in their structures.
This is the backdrop, what came first. Not Mike's article, for example.
Just as when a women's organization called Bread and Roses in Boston took over a huge meeting of the anti-war movement, three decades ago, and said to the men, get it straight or get out of here ---- how much more abrasive can you get, in some sense, than that, including physical assaults? -- that wasn't what came first, but, instead, it was a response, not always absolutely perfect and optimal, but very sorely needed and JUSTIFIED, to a movement in which women were relgated to subordination, at best.
More on Moore, religion, sports, class issues, etc.
Pete, in all the back and forth and here and there I somehow almost missed this one. But....(I apologize in advance...this is another long post. The topic is a very hard one to communicate about.)
> Hence the term "opium." It lessens the pain of existence, but does not help to solve the root problems. Positively, he continues, religion is "the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions."
Yes, and if one thinks religion isn't the best possible sign or heart or soul -- and that is an open question given that many do think it is very good at these particular functions, but I can certainly see someone thinking it isn't best, such as me -- presumably offering something better makes a lot more sense than arguing that religion isn't serving the functions at all, which is, in fact, quite obviously false.
> What about Chomsky's critique of sports in the film Manufacturing Consent? I know he got some grief over this.
Well, I don';t think he has gotten any grief that bothered him -- but, as to the substance, you know I love Noam and all, and we talk all the time and agree most of the time for about thirty years now -- but he is entitled to be wrong, and even ignorant, at times. And this, at least the way he is interpreted on the topic, is one of those times. (For what he really thinks, re sports and rooting for sports, you would have to ask him, which of course, you can, over in chomskychat....)
I don't remember Noam's precise critique. Some of it that I do remember, I think is very instructive. He talks of being in High School and wondering why fans who don't know players on one team any better than players on the other, care so much who wins. I think this is, in his usual manner, very revealing. But it is a probe, not a set of answers.
When he notes that folks expend large stores of mental energy, at a very complex level of multi step linkages, regarding sports, and that no more and arguably less would be needed to comrehend the news of the day, etc., again, I think he is on the mark, again. But it is an observation of fact, not an explanation.
When audiences of his comments on sports take from it an explanation for WHY people expend time on sports and not the front pages, much less Z Magazine, say, I don't know whether they are in touch with what he means to communicate though I doubt it, and, whether he agrees or not, they are off into mistakes.
> Consumerism, where advertising beats into our head the idea that consuming makes us happy, that we should buy buy buy, I think has negative cultural effects. Doesn't Z magazine have at least one cartoon each month on this subject?
I don't draw the cartoons, and I don't agree with everything in Z by a long shot.
I think the left's understanding of consumerism, all the way back to the 1960s when this emerged in a big way, is off base, horribly so in many instances.
As you know I am about as aggressively opposed to markets, including producing and consuming as we know them in our society, as a person can be. But my understanding of the phenomena is very different than what many leftists espouse, or appear to espouse.
Current young folks, to use this to make a peripheral point, often think they are jettisoning what was bad and wrong in the new left and retaining only the good, with new innovations. I often look on, sadly, and feel the opposite. They are retaining precisely the bad part....
Have you ever heard of an ad that gets people to eat food that tastes shitty, by convincing them that it tastes good?
What mainly makes consumerism work is that society is structured so that consuming is one of the few viable and safe and acceptable ways of actually meeting any needs, to however limited a degree relative to what ought to be possible.
Most consumption -- not all, but most -- is quite rational GIVEN the constrained situations people find themselves in. Yours and mine included. Would you read the NYT, with all its immoral and biasing ideology, plus the ads, etc., if there were a better option? But without a better option, you do read that lying immoral rag.
I learned what I know about consumerism back when I rebelled against the New Left's snotty dismissal (alongside all the NL's many good features) of working people's desires for various commodities. Also, instructive, was a little parable an economist friend related to me...
Take a butterfly and cut off its wings. The butterfly walks to get around. Is it rational for the butterfly to walk? Answer: yes. Is it rationale for the butterfly to walk? Answer no.
We are all butterflys regarding most of the dimensions of our lives. It is all too easy to see us as irrational (or tricked) because we walk rather than fly so often, when, in fact, "waling" is sensible, often even courageous, within the constraints we face. One can be critical of conditions and even options, but not of people constrained to endure the conditions and make the best of them.
Take someone spending all day Sunday watching NFL football. The leftie critic says what a waste. The person is tricked into this mode by media, etc. Horrible. There is a better than thou tone to it, most often. You need to see the light and behave differently. He/she should be out playing football, or learning guitar, or building a union, etc.
Well, I think this critic has no notion what needs are being met watching that ball game, and just how impossible, painful, and self-destructive, in context, the leftist's proposed alternatives likely are, given the tv-viewers life situation, what he/she or often they have to get up and do on Monday to keep their families functioning, and so on.
It IS arrogant and ignorant, and holier than thou -- the stance the leftist and especially the left per se often has toward people who consume, enjoy and pursue various types of entertainment, practice religion, and so on and so forth...
The first problem is whether they really are walking instead of flying--often we don't even know the difference. The second problem, even if we do know, is telling folks who are walking, in the constrained setting that actually makes that a courageous and sensible choice, that they are somehow wrong and should behave otherwise. And conveying all this arrogantly, whether intentionally or not.
> In his piece Moore says "Yet they [the public] despise liberals. If they knew where to find the nutty left, they'd despise them, too. They see liberals, progressives and lefties as arrogant, self-righteous and dreadfully predictable. They know you won't ever have a beer with them, or talk to them about how the Indians did in the Series. Christ, can you even name a single Cleveland Indian?"
Is this a perfect expression of Moore's whole belief system? Of course not. Can one read this and take away a silly message easy to dismiss? No doubt. But I read it and to me it rings very true.
To me, liberals and the left are identified in the public mind with what Spiro Agnew called pointed-headed intellectuals. Not merely people who think -- but people who presume their own superiority, a class superiority, and who believe they deserve the bigger bucks and greater power and status they have or they aspire to, and on and on...
It is a complex situation. Working people want their children to grow up and become doctors, lawyers, and so on, in most cases. Why? To escape from one class into the next higher, far more empowered, far richer class, and thereby hopefully have a better life. BUT, at the same time, working people HATE these folks they aspire for their kids to become with a passion, in my experience. It is often sublimated, otherwise how does one live? But it's there.
So insofar as the left, an anti-war movement, an ecology movement, a women's movement, or whatever else, feels to working people like it is a manifestation of this hated elite, the left will not be seen as something to become a part of -- despite what it preaches, but as an enemy. (Note: doctors and lawyers and high falutin professors and managers and all the rest of the coordinator class, like the capitalists, for that matter, SAY they are pro working people and trying to assist in improving everyone's lives. Workers don't buy it, don't believe it. That is class consciousness. Same for liberal and left protestations to care about working people...)
And the claim I am making is that working people for the most part aren't wrong or tricked in their beliefs on this score. To a considerable degree, they are seeing the reality, this particular reality, not all things, better than we are.....
> OK. You and Moore are saying that the left as a movement is openly hostile to working class culture and it shouldn't be. It depends what you mean by hostile and by w.c. culture. Obviously, it shouldn't be hostile to the people themselves.
I am saying the left in this country, and by and large in many situations and historical settings (including the Bolsheviks) hasn't been a pro working class venture, but, instead, an outgrowth of the aims and aspirations of enlightened, anti capitalist, coordinators. That is the underlying issue. It is what contextualizes how I understand the manifestations in collective preferences, etc.
> > If your chosen individual gives off anti-working class values and "vibes" then yes, he or she is likely to suffer as an organizer in working class communities and will certainly be told as much, by them. That is a different matter.
> What are "anti-working class values" and "vibes"? How do you know?
Working class people tell you. And you listen. Even if it sounds funny or stange or personally threatening, at first. Just as when women and blacks told (and continue to tell) the movement about its white and male manners and assumptions and DEFINITION and program.
> Pollitt seems to feel that they aren't as macho as Moore makes them out to be.
I am not going to be in Katha's forum, only here, and I don't want to address her long distance.
I haven't heard Moore make anyone out to be macho...but maybe I missed something. The issue, in any event, isn't what bad values and norms and behaviors exist within the working class, individually, or broadly. That is simply another matter. Important in its own right, but different.
When blacks literally rose up against the left to push it to become what is now called multicultural, it was just a non sequitor to talk about say, homophobia in the black community and whether one should ignore it or adopt similar views or whether it was there or not.
The answers were evident and obvious -- yes it is there, aggressively so, yes a progressive left person has to confront and challenge it, creatively, and sensibly -- but what has that to do with the left becoming a positive place and an empowering place for blacks, and not a place that is defined as white, with white culture only, white values, only, white presumptions only -- or largely -- and not only ignorance and absense regarding other cultures, but a lot of implicit denigration as well.
The same holds on class, it is just that, if anything, the left is even more universally "guilty" of the parallel class attributes, and less cognizant of it, more defensive about it.
> > Finally, Moore and I are both arguing, as I made clear in another post, that an undercurrent of people's criticisms of these various tastes, preferences, and choices of working people is a lack of understanding of working people's lives and the SENSIBLENESS of their choices. Also, even, an actual class antipathy to them.
> I don't think that there needs to be an undercurrent. The criticims can be legitimate and have little to do with working people's lives and choices or with class antipathy.
Well of course there doesn't NEED to be. And one can have views for lots of different reasons. But we are saying there IS. One could, in days past, be in an anti-war movement or labor organization and have no knowledge whatever of the real character of the lives of blacks, of their music, celebrations, and ways, etc. and even be critical of lots in black culture and community, due to lots of different possible causes. But when these attributes are present not just for individuals, but for whole movements -- much less if those movements had chosen plantation and jim crow structure for their internal organizations (and we do the comparable thing, on the left, in my opinion, re class) the explanation that it is all benign begins to sound very thin.
> What if working people are making the criticisms?
Sometimes it is sensible, sometimes they are confused and wrong...it depends, obviously.
> Suppose there's a group, not an individual, that feels markets can not be abolished, that any group who thinks they can be is utopian. Now, I would attack the ideas of the marketeers, but not think less of them as people. Even if they say I'm utopian.
You could. But it isn't in any way analogous. There isn't a hierarchy of power, critical to the structure of society, between these groups...and so on.
> I spy with my little eye something that's name begins with a "S." Yep, a straw man. I say "bad-mouthing their activities" not the people themselves. You move the object of derision from being the activities to being the people themselves.
I am not moving it, the people are. And to be blunt about this I have no interest in talking about your personal behavior, just as you would presumably have none in talking about mine. What matters is the larger scale phenomena out there. Not what is conceivable, but what is and has been the norm.
Can leftists have critiques of the political economy of sports and be non antagonistic toward sports fans, and percieved by sports fans as non antagonistic? For sure, Yep. But, it isn't easy. Can someone even have a critique even of being a fan and yet not be percieved by fans as antagonistic to them, feeling superior to them. Yes, it is possible, but again not easy.
But when I hear the reasons people on the left have for their critiques of consuming or rooting, to me there is every reason for the consumer or fan to feel affronted. And I am not surprised to find that they do.
BUT what is simply lost every time I say it is that it is the WHOLE OVERALL situation that is in question...and it is that which makes each element of the situation an affront.
Just as it was, and to a somewhat reduced extent still is, with issues of race and gender.
> > Why not bad mouth people for reading the NYT, say, or for reading novels, or for listening to music of any kind, or for tinkering with computers, or for playing bridge, and so on?
> Or why not bad mouth the activities? Indeed. I think women who wear those big, furry, Cat in the Hat, Jamiroqoi, top hats look silly. Maybe they're quality people and the hats keep their heads warm, but still.
Notice, you went to something you would never do. Not to reading the Times... And what you went to was archtype of rich. (Listen to Dylans song Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat -- it is devastating, in my opinion, and brilliant, but look at who the target is...)
> We agree with the plain version of Michael's idea: leftists should get out into the world more, not sweat the small stuff, and recognize that the working class already understands a lot, maybe more than leftists about the basic workings of the system.
> But this purer leftist than thou, authentic proleteriat culture stuff is wrong.
And it isn't what anyone is saying. Do you see it in this message? Please quote from any message I have written something that conveys this, in your opinion.
> It can lead to Prolekult and reminds me of the early Soviet culture debates. Replace culture with art and you get The Left Front in Art, RAPP, Prolekult, agitprop, liberal fellow-travller, the ideologies of socialist realism.
But you know that I am into none of this, and a sharp critic of all of it. So it ought to at least make you wonder if there aren't more subtleties at work here. Particularly insofar as all this stuff is precisely the product of coordinator movements, not real working class movements--in other words, of precisely what I and, I think, Moore, are trying to understand and impact.
> Sysop, have you skimmed Adolph Reed's new book on Du Bois? He presents Du Bois as an elitist and puts forward themes that chime with your views on coordinatorism.
No. I haven't seen it. Perhaps in a separate thread you can offer up some quotes... I will try to get a copy. Who was the publisher?
Left and Classism
>>This is responding mainly to your stories about teaching. I'm pretty strongly convinced that almost all people in the U.S.A. both hate and empathize with the rich, and both fear/dislike and feel allied with the poor, at the same time.
Well, I think there are different attitudes by class, not just wealth. Working people in the U.S. barely if ever actually come into contact with capitalists. But they continually, all their lives through, interact with what I call the coordinator class. And the anger and hostility toward this sector grows and grows, but generally without effective outlet...as does the desire for their kids to escape to this status.
Regarding attitudes toward capitalists I think working people's emotions are more muted, and much less personal.
Now, take coordinators themselves. They often feel capitalists are undeserving obstacles to rational choice and good taste, and that working people, are, well, there to be bossed and tended.
Capitalists view coordinators as annoying but necessary emmisaries and agents, and working people, as, well, labor/fodder.
This is obviously grossly oversimplified, but even so, on average and across these huge constituencies, it captures something of the most basic defining sentiments, it seems to me.
As to naunces, a lot of what you say fills in gaps and refines the whole, to be sure.
> Though I must admit, it rankles me when I, who have suffered through homelessness, unemployment and other serious scourges particular to working people hear the arrogant condemnation of leftist intellectualism (which i consider myself a part of) by someone who is as far removed from such things as Michael Moore.
I don't understand this. What a person says and who they are are not the same thing.
The latter affects whether you like them, want to be friends with them, want to work them, or whatever else. I don't think anyone on here could possibly know very much about anyone else on here by a few posts...but, even if you could, it doesn't seem to me to have any bearing whatever on the validity of their words.
What we say is independent, and either true or false, insightful or not, etc.
Let's take Bruce Springsteen. We do at least know that he is very very wealthy, rich, and lives far from working class folks, etc. Does that mean he can't say and know things about working class life that are very important and revealing, etc. Nope. Obviously not.
He may be out o touch, ignorant, or otherwise removed such that his comments will prove invalid in some way. Or they may be valid.
> The biggest complaint I've heard from working people and poor people about the left is not its alleged "distance" from "regular folk" but simply that they don't see it as offeriung viable, realistic and practical alternatives to the status quo.
Well, I certainly agree that this is a real and also a valid complaint. But I happen to think is is very connected to the other one -- the class definition of the left, which affects what it thinks about, and how it thinks as well. Speaking, of course, broadly.
> Indeed, though I think that both the reason I cited above and the relentless mass media assault on the left are the reasons for this, not some "left-wing snobbery" as others allege.
Not left-wing snobbery, left wing replication of and identification with coordinator class ways and values...and aims.
We agree on absense of vision. I happen to think this other has a big effect also, directly, and, as well, on vision.
Having been in the left for over thirty years, it not as if there haven't been large numbers of working people in and then out of it -- in its many varients. There have. Why don't they stay...lots of reasons, no doubt. I suspect it not being a very nice or affirming or empowering place for them is high on the list, however.
> I doubt if the left is any more coordinator-like than a cross section of the public, and I think M. Moore has lumped left intellectualism in with classism, unfairly.
How about in this forum we leave Moore aside. My views should fill that bucket anyhow.
Left intellectuals with very few exceptions advocate an economic system which subordinates workers to a dominant class of coordinators. Classist?
If we take a cross section of the public, at most 20 percent, I think, are part of the coordinator class. Less with many definitions.
If we take the left -- specific movements, organizations, periodicals, etc. and we look at (a) their leadership, (b) the people writing their programs and running their periodicals and outreach and other means of communication, and (c) even their overall membership, I believe we will often find numbers much closer to 100% coordinator (or coordinator identified) than to 20%. It would be an interesting study.
The same will hold, even a little more so, if we look at progressive media organs most broadly, particularly at their policy making and defining centers.
Or, drop you or I down in a random place in society, and then in a random left or progressive institution. Do you honestly mean to claim that the likelihood of finding ourselves admist working class versus coordinator toned and defined circumstances is the same for these two thought experiments?
> His original "Is the Left Nuts?" article came after the Media Congress, a once a year, star studded event that is probably not a great judging point.
Well, it is certainly but one judging point, that's quite true. But would the conferences of Greenpeace be much different, or of the much poorer Greens? How about the Socialist Scholars Conference each year in NYC? Something to keep in mind, as well, is that we are talking about how the movement appears to the broad public? How it feels and seems to people who contact it. One very powerful determinent of that is the movement's most visible people and structures, not its most laudatory but largely invisible ones. That conference was a gathering of the visible, plus some more.
You know, even if you were right, and the left was like society, how would that be a refutation? Imagine someone saying in 1968 that the movement was no worse than society at large re race and gender (which was arguably true, unlike in this case) so where do the women and blacks critiquing it get off to be so pissed? It wouldn't make much sense...BECAUSE the movement is supposed to be so much BETTER.
> Many Chomsky readers, in fact, could probably never afford to attend such a deal because they are too busy washing dishes to pay off college loans.
Which, even if it were true, which I sincerely doubt, would tell us very very little re the topic at hand. College kids paying off loans can be aspiring coordinators or proud workers....
More, for the umptyumpth time, the issue is not the motivations and mannerisms of individuals, but the overriding attributes of the left, as perceived by working people gravitating toward it, and then -- I believe -- often doing an about face.
You know in this discussion it really feels like people want Moore and myself to be wrong. The reaction feels -- I hope I am not being unfair -- quick and excited. Like we are saying something which, if true, is somehow horrible and has terrible consequences. Folks seem to be trying to take what is said and interpret it or quote it in some way that allows refutation, even if only of some tiny part of the whole case can be so handled. I don't understand that. The fact is that insofar as we can all remain sober and not beat ourselves to death, discovering inadequacies in our efforts, especially large scale ones that may be having a profound impact on our effectivity, is a WONDERFUL thing for the left to accomplish. If we find something inadequate about ourselves, GREAT. Then we can actually work to get better and have good prospects of succeeding. We should hope the critical messenger is right, not wrong. When a reasonably reputible and experienced and otherwise pretty sensible source claims to find big problems it seems to me we should investigate first with an eye to seeing the logic and strengthening the case, if anything, rather than trying to shoot it down immediately.
I encounter something like this a lot with folks my age re looking back at the sixties. They want to ward off critique. They jump in that direction first, rarely even giving slight credence to the critic as having possibily discerned something important. It's absurd but understandable. The sixties was the core experience of their (and my) lives. They take critique of it personally and get defensive. I can empathize, hell I do it sometimes myself. But it isn't constructive. The sixties has not given us a new society. One hopes that was in part because we fucked up so that by discerning how folks can do better in the future. If we didn't fuck up, if we were perfect, THAT would have horrible implications.
The same logic applies to looking at our current institutions and movements. Sure trashing and degrading is nonsense and destructive. But that isn't what is going on here...it seems obvious to me.
> And it was pretty obvious that the sports remarks in his article and his last message are meant to get people's goats. A classic baiting flame. I do think the topics are worth discussing, though.
Moore tries to push buttons to get people aroused and aware. Humor and satire work that way. But let's address me, at least here in this forum.
I say that the left's disdain for sports is a problem. Is that a flame?
I say that the way the left, or many leftists, regard consumerism is a problem. I say that the way the left, or many leftists, regard religion is a problem. But much more, I say that the way the left or many leftists understand work and those who do it, is a problem. Is all this a flame?
For some reason, though folks on here are careful to quote others on most topics, I have not had many of my comments on this topic quoted and responded to....even when I try, as in some recent posts -- even the one this thead took off from a couple of posts back, I believe -- to set out very explicit claims to agree with or reject, to try and clarify the state of the discussion. I don't quite get why that is.
John, within probably 90 to 95% of the institutions of the left there is a class structure re the distribution of circumstances, influence, and, where relevant, pay and reward. And the more visible the institutions are, and the more resources they have, the more pronounced this is.
When we look at mainstream institutions and we see hierarchies overwhelmingly present we expect to see the beneficiaries of the hierarchies defining the culture and roles of the institutions. Does this logic not extend to ourselves?
> > If we take a cross section of the public, at most 20 percent, I think, are part of the coordinator class. Less with many definitions.
> Maybe so, but how many have coordinator class values and desires? I'd say more than 20, maybe much more, depending on how we define these things.
Well, I don't think so. Oh certainly, as I said, a large portion of working people would like their kids to escape wage slavery, by all means.
But that isn't the same as having coordinator class values and attitudes. There are shared values, to a degree, across all classes, just as there are across cultural communities, religions, etc. But they are beside the point due to their universality, or near universality.
I don't really think, in any event, that comparisons between the left and society per se mean much. It aspires to so much, rightly, that it brings out attention to injustice, including within itself. This was why the women's movement and in some ways even the civil rights movement, particularly as it became more militant, were responding in considerable part to the experiences people had inside the left. Because there one was in the mood and the mindset to judge.
> > Well, it is certainly but one judging point, that's quite true. But would the conferences of Greenpeace be much different, or of the much poorer Greens? How about the Socialist Scholars Conference each year in NYC?
> None of these sound like good places to judge the left. Try going to local election drives, petition drives, or protest rallies. Attend a strategy meeting. Most people I talk to think the national conferences are a waste of time (and just for people who can afford the time).
John, I really have been to such places, I promise, many many times. When blacks said the left was too white and women said it was too male it was easy to say, hey, wait, here it isn't, there not so -- and, in my opinion, it was beside the point.
I think the same holds now regarding class, except, as I have pointed out, for now at least the problem is virtually universally ignored or denied.
If the left is largely structurally and emotionally, in its modes of communicating and celebrating, and in its values, coordinator defined, and is perceived that way from without -- regardless of the truly and honestly wonderful sentiments and aims of many people, it has a problem. That doesn't mean we have to commit hari kari. It means we need to do better, on many fronts.
> I know that's the issue, but why should one have to make sweeping assumptions about the people in these forums in order to make the above point?
I think we are back to Moore -- I think he was reacting to being trashed instead of having his words and view taken seriously. I think it is beside the real point, in any event, and I think on that we agree.
> > You know in this discussion it really feels like people want Moore and myself to be wrong. The reaction feels -- I hope I am not being unfair -- quick and excited. Like we are saying something which, if true, is somehow horrible and has terrible consequences.
> I really think it has more to do the with the percieved snotty and insulting tone of Moore's post, not with the ideas. He didn't quote anyone himself, so it seemed directed at all participants, people who he knows nothing about.
He had about twenty messages to try to relate to. Again, I didn't see it as so awful as you did. Strong, yes. But his character, literally, had been challenged...he had been called, virtually, a hypocrite--I found that extreme, to tell you truth. In any event, let's just let all that go and talk the issues.
> I think part of the problem is vantage point. You and others might look at more of the national left, while Mitch, myself and some other readers look at the not-so-structured, less hierarchical local level. So we see a different left, possibly.
Maybe... But it is also possible we are seeing differently, at least somewhat.
> I will say, though, that any lack of elite hierarchy on the local level is probably only temporary. It would apppear as soon as any movement grew because there is no organizing structure to prevent it.
And why is that?
Do you think the same holds re gender and race -- that in the transition from local to national it gets worse, dramatically, no less. If not, why is it true for class?
> > Left intellectuals with very few exceptions advocate an economic system which subordinates workers to a dominant class of coordinators. Classist?
> OK, Michael, I think we need some definition here. Most of the left, if we're defining it broadly, does not advocate sweeping change that would radically alter things, but rather small, incremental changes that simply decrease levels of existing injustice, in my view, with perhaps a view toward an eventual system that is truly just. By definition that would imply some sort of class distinction as the end result of current projects.
You are right about a terminology problem.
We all use the words too loosely, I think large because there is no general agreement about how to use them more definitively.
For me left encompasses those who reject basic institutions and hope to replace them with transformed institutions that are more just, equitable, etc. The left to me encompasses people who want to see an end to racism, sexism, authoritarian government, and capitalism. In the left, re the economy, the vast majority espouse, if anything, a "market socialist" model--that is, one that elevates the coordinator class to dominance.
Progressive to me is the term for the broader constituency of folks who are left or, ALSO, just on the left side of current issues, but lack such long run commitments.
> And far less if we move the question beyond the US, Canada and Western Europe.
I don't know much about that. You are probably right due to matters of development, but not structurally. The missing coordinator class is replace by a more authoritarian government -- which was also a part of the dynamic of Stalinism, for what that's worth.
> it seems inevitable that leaders will, therefore tend to be people who, however noble in intent, are somewhat motivated by ambition, and are accustomed to hierarchical structures.
Yes, I think it is a kind of Catch-22. Society gives out certain kinds of knowledge, skills, and dispositions -- through socialization, training, etc. -- quite sparingly. The Catch-22 is that the circumstances and actions which allow one to accrue these things, very key to developing movements, also tend to make one mostly likely not interested in dissidence at all, or, if interested, also prone to dominating and constructing something unable to fulfill the desired aims.
Of course you are obviously right that union membership is dispropotionately -- 100% -- working class. And the larger the left project or movement, the more will be working class, again, virtually necessarily. But the issue is those who define the characteristics, the programs, the rhetoric, even the tone and celebrations of the movements...and there is seems we agree.
I think much of waht you say abotu the make up of the grass roots constituencies for various programs is certainly true.
But the numbers are so low that it matters not...
> Agreed. But I think the left IS much better than society at large, both in terms of classism as well as racism, sexism, homophobia, xenphobia etc.
You know, I am not so sure on class. Oh of course on some things, yes, by all means. But look at dues structures. Most of our projects aren't even as progressive as income taxes. And when we create an institution which is going to persist, are they really that much better, re allocation of wages and decsion-making power than the rest of society? You have to think a little. Yes, I think the answer is yes. But that we have to think on it is pretty amazing, it seems to me.
> But also it is not realistic to expect so many people to overcome so many ingrained ways of thought in a relatively short period of time.
But that is not what I am expecting or asking. What I am asking is that it be seen as a valid and important issue. That it be tackled self-consciously. Which is the organization or movement institution, in this society, that is asking whether its internal organizational structure is classist? There are a few, I agree. But not too many.
> and frankly when I look at what has been written and said in the years between, say 1960 and 1998, I see an increase in such notions in recent years.
I see far less attention to class, though I will admit freely that the attention it has been given in the past is not always even of the type that I think it deserves. Indeed, I think that history is part of the problem...but that is another matter.
Political economy has gone horribly backward over those years, horribly so.
>I also see a good deal less sexism or homphobia or racism in the left, especially the radical left, than in the 60s.
That is very true. An achievment. One I want to echo on another front.
When many of us fought hard to ADD to a class dimension in the left a race and gender and power dimension, regretably some took it to mean to REPLACE a class dimension with these others. That was too bad...
> One can look at the cup, once perhaps near-empty, as half-full or half-empty today. In my view, the progress made in these regards makes me tend to see it as half-full.
Race and gender, I quite agree.
Class, to be honest, I have to say I do not really see the progress. If anything, the opposite.
> Perhaps you, having been there in the 60s have a differing view, but I, having been born in 1966, can only go by what I can gleen of that era.
Another of our problems. We are so horrible at doing our history.... not your fault, to be sure. As usual, ours.
> True, though it begs the question--if it didn't cost so much to buy Chomsky's books, would this distribution be different? And is that Chomsky's or the left's fault?
No one's. The distribution of left books, like our magazines, like our words, at any given moment, has little to do with their price, which is generally quite low compared to many widely bought things. It has to do with our outreach, with the context, and so on.
Over time, well then there is also "the stickiness problem" which, in part, this whole discussion is about.
> I'll admit to that in regard to Moore's piece, which I felt was unecessarily insulting.
Why does everyone take it so personally? I don't get it. I don't.
> I'm also not at all convinced that what you and Moore are saying is the same thing, or even all that similar.
Well, it seems to me it is, but you may be right, for all I know....
> But in terms of what you're saying, I think I just am not perceiving the same thing as you are. Further, I think I'm contending, to some degree that insofar as this problem exists, it is more a problem of how the left is perceived than how it actually is, especially as it pertains to the radical sector of the left, rather than it's more conservative mainstream wing as we deal with the most in the West.
Okay, what is this radical sector taht doesn't have a serious problem around its class values and definition, even program and aims?
> Well, if you're saying that this is what keeps people from supporting the left, isn't that a "terrible consequence"? Doesn't it imply that the problem prevents us from getting anything substantive done?
But we know we are having a very hard time succeeding. That is a given. We know our movements aren't attracting and holding almost any constituency, much left a working class one -- for year after year. We know these things. They are not a consequence of finding a possible cause, perhaps among many. A consequence of finding a possible cause is possibly being able to do something about it.
> > Folks seem to be trying to take what is said and interpret it or quote it in some way that allows refutation, even if only of some tiny part of the whole case can be so handled. I don't understand that.<
> This I do think is unfair. I don't see what part of your point I, for one, am leaving out.
Well, you are writing a response that is after what I wrote. But have you addressed the fact that our institutions, to the degree we have them, are organized as virtual mirror images of corporate structure, for example? To me this is devestating...at this point, thirty years from the birth of a whole new set of movement intent upon fighting for all kinds of justice.
> To some extent also, this is a result of online communication. Posts that get too long are, customarily snipped.
> Agreed. But in Moore's case, I didn't see constructive criticism, but a sweeping and insulting indictment. Let me be clear on this point: I find both the tone and substance of what you are saying to be wholly different from Moore, though both of you are commenting on the same problem.
Is it possible, even in part, that that is because he has a different mode, style, and culture? Is it possible that it is becauase is feeling the whole issue more directly personally, than I do? I think the content is quite similar... Yes, I do have an underlying analysis I am adding, about class relations, which he may or may not have. I don't know. But I think his knowledge of the interface between working people and the left is far more attunded than mine.
> I remain open to being convinced otherwise in a rational debate, but I'm not prepared to respond positively to what I see as a deliberate and arrogant attempt to "put me in my place". That, as I see it, is the contrast between you and Moore.
Try to hear this....
When blacks confronted the left, when women did, most whites and men felt much as you do. The ones who were justified in feeling they weren't proper targets, and the ones who weren't. It wasn't helpful.
You want to learn from the lessons of the past. Here is one. When movements are challenged by disenfranchised oppressed constituencies on grounds that they aren't, in fact, welcoming to and supportive of those constituencies, movement members are going to accomplish way more by listening hard, setting aside all personal reactions, and trying to find truth in what is being said. If, after that, it still seems offbase, that is more than time enough to say so.
> Agreed. But don't you think that, when critiques are raised, if I, for example, honestly believe the critique is misdirected, there shouldn't be debate on the point?
When? Instantly? Can you see the difference. Of course when women confronted the movement, first gently, to no avail (quite predictably) and then militantly, at first it is inevitably going to seem totally uncalled for and outlandish to people. This is going to be true for any such challenge, even when it is justified. Thus, when such challenges are made, and when they are coming from what on all other grounds seem to be serious and involved people, there should be a long long moment of trying to understand. Trying to set aside first reactions. Life is long. If the complaints prove to be misplaced, the lost time isn't going to derail the left....
> I think we agree there are problems. But we're identifying different ones.
Well there are plenty of problems to go around, to be sure....
> Each of us has different perspectives on the pont. Assuming we're not both right, or even if we are, does it not behoove us to explore that in the realm of friendly, cooperative debate? Believe me, Michael, it's not that I have a personal stake in you being wrong.
To make a debate friendly, the best policy is to just be friendly, over and over, even when the other sides seems to not be.
> No. But lets's look at that point with a more critical eye. I read and hear many leftists who talk about sports. I watch sports with friends of mine who are leftists. On the other hand, I have often come near to physical fights when I don't take my hat off for the national anthem at games (I decided to rise for the anthem, against my wishes, to avoid this sort of thing). Is that not going to engender some disdain?
Well, no, not from me. I think patriotism is a very difficult thing to address, in fact. Not near so easy as the left makes it out to be. I don't think someone being patriotic is the same as someone being imperialist, by a long shot.
I think people who work shit jobs and take crap and try to get their kids to be what they hate, and on and on, would have a still harder time if they had to say, my country tis of thee, it sucks bigtime.
And I think that feeling that AT LEAST my country, which I contribute to, is fine, helps folks.
This may be all wrong, but it demonstrates a different approach.
When I look at people's behavior I try to understand it first as a positive outgrowth, as trying to get by and make good in awful conditions, and so on...as trying to walk with a broken wing -- to use the example I placed in another post.
Others often seem to me to try to explain everything in the most degrading way and devaluing way.
> I'm not convinced that this antipathy toward sports on the left is as endemic as you're suggesting.
Well, I guess we each have our experiences. Again, and I can't say it often enough, I guess, it isn't dislike for sports, it is thgat the form it takes is felt as antipathy or disdain for fans, and, even more, that it is part of a larger package...for the left broadly.
> > I say that the way the left, or many leftists, regard consumerism is a problem. I say that the way the left, or many leftists, regard religion is a problem. But much more, I say that the way the left or many leftists understand work and those who do it, is a problem. Is all this a flame?<
> Not at all. They are problems that must be explored, but don't you think that the first thing that must be explored is whether these accusations are accurate? If we accept that this is how the left is PERCEIVED does it not behoove us to explore how well the perception matches up with reality, especially if others either don't share the perception or think it less pervasive than you are suggesting?
Of course, sure.
Look back at my posts on the topic. I have even written them in the form of a series of claims to be challenged or explored further...as you rightly suggest they are.
I have to say, I think to make progress you are intimating we need to shuffle the discussion a bit, and I agree.
So let's try to ask this.....what do you think the left answer is, more often than not, to the following questions?
Why do people consume a lot?
How much of our consumption is unecessary and irrational?
Why do people root for sports teams and put so much energy into sports news, etc.?
What role does sports play in society?
>> Last year, and this week, hundreds of thousands of average working class + leftist french people held mass protest rallies that forced their government to reverse their direction on decreasing social spending and copying the U.S. in decreasing welfare benefits. German students did the same thing when they threatened to start charging a small amount of tuition. People in the U.S. did no such thing in response to the welfare bill and various other large strikes against regular working people.
>>Whose fault is this? The working people, the corporate media for misreporting it and distracting people with OJ, all of you left wing writers and the left wing activists for failing to reach, inform, and motivate the regular working class people, the rich people who have imprisoned and disabled the working class and the left wing, or all of the above?
"Fault" is not the best word to use, I think, but all of the above and a whole lot more, not least the history of these country's, their different roles in the world, and so on and so forth.
>>A second, unrelated question directed at Michael A.: how effective have you been at interesting non-left wing activists in participatory economics.
For the most part I haven't even been effective in interesting left wing activists in it. Much less others.
>I assume most people who have laid hands on your book have been certified political people who got it through the mail or go to small urban bookstores.
>How have people in your night school classes responded - or how energetic are they for actually spending time to try to achieve this type of system -
I have presented related ideas to such classes, also to audiences in some speaking engagements, to some labor sessions, as well. But it is a pretty hard pull. Suppose, for a moment, participatory economics is the future. A big supposition. And suppose any serious look at it, without bias, would show this. Another big supposition. Thus, resistance to the ideas isn't on the reasoned grounds that they stink -- which it may be.
Even if all this is so, presenting a model in a talk, or class, or even a book -- which is repeated by virtually no one else, and is supported by no movements, isn't going to garner a whole lot of supporters. One here one there. And so on. Down the road, if this model is the real thing, this very slow process will yield enough folks to start impacting organizations, then to have organizations, then to have power.
At best, we are at an early stage in such a scenario. At worst, the vision is horribly flawed and others intuit it quickly and easy, where I don't.
> I mean, even though the U.S. is pretty 'anti-communist' according to the U.S. definition of the term, almost everyone I know from middle-middle class and on down agrees with some basic socialist ideas, if not actually giving control of industries over to the state. Most people think that a lot more tax money should go to poor people instead of corporate welfare. In 8th grade when asked to describe a utopia, nearly everyone in my class described socialism, using different words.
This is all quite true.
>But I don't particularly see anybody wanting to join the ISO lately.
Indeed. And among the reasons, I think, is a feeling that the ISO isn't going to lead to anything remotely resembling what people want, and isn't, in any real sense, an organization of theirs. Of course other things are at work too...fear, time pressure, needs to conform to norms, and so on.
>I think your book is very clearly, and straightforwardly written without any pretension, but in some places the writing can slip into a sort of jargon.
Well thank you, but I think probably in more than a few places. Robin and I are trained economists, graduates of MIT and Harvard, highly socialized in many many ways. I know it, he knows it.
> For instance, I see how you use the term 'job complex' instead of job because the nature of people's work would indeed be a different thing, but I can't imagine people switching to using the word 'complex' instead of job.
You are probably right. Would that some folks with working class organizing in their blood would take up parecon, refine it, correct it, and communicate it.
> Wouldn't participatory economics have to be dangled at people via coordinator types, just to overcome the feeling that you often talk about, that there can be no system better than what there is presently?
This I don't understand. Quite the contrary, it seems to me. One of the problems is that parecon is being dangled by people who are coordinator types...well meaning ones, class renegades, I believe, at least in purpose if not in manners/style/language, but nonetheless quite suspicious.
Retaining members in movements...
> Here's a question along the lines of why various movements have trouble attracting and retaining working folks -- Why doesn't feminism today retain women?
Well, as with each movement I think there are many reasons, and I only have eyes for some.
Partly it is attracting people -- outreach.
And partly it is keeping people -- stickiness.
And for each of these sides of the size coin, so to speak, there are issues, ranging from limited resources and counter pressures that we work against, to bad choices on our part.
I think lack of positive vision is a part of it, for example, as is the character of the movements created and their apparant worth to be a part of.
> I think that women have made much more progress than racial minorities or the working class (mostly because racial equality seems to depend upon class equality I think, while women are equally distributed among all classes). But this certainly doesn't mean that sexism has been erased.
Conditions differ and the oppression do as well. It is hard to measure the progress but it has been much greater, for both, than many on the left are able to see or admit -- another strange attribute we tend to have.
But, of course, there is a long way to go, as you say, and neither movement, now, is what it needs to be, by far.
> I know so many people who express that they think both genders should be equal and have equal opportunities etc. but that they hate feminists because feminists are all these anti-sex humorless nazis.
Hmmm. This is partly a product of the media, of course, but not entirely. And couldn't it have a good deal to do with the class charachter and the other cultural dimensions of the women's movement?
>Yet of course, this is just the image that the right wing, plus a few really offbase feminists have placed in everyone's head.
I think its an image they have used, but not one that they have created whole cloth, by any means. Now I will do my examples in reverse. When right wingers (remember Spiro Agnew) characterized the left as bullett headed intellecuals, I think it was...they were playing on something real, in my opinion (the class definition/appearance of the left) to make the left unpopular even against its worthier attributes. I think the treatment of the women's movement is similar....
> Every feminist that I know is fighting to make men and women equal, like most moderates and liberals agree with.
as you knote, the women's movement has thinned out dramatically. What it is and was aren't quite the same thing...and the memory of larger scale visibility, augmented by right-wing exaggeration, still dominates perceptions.
> So is it the feminist movement that is responsible for failing to attract women, or is it the fault of external parties like Rush Limbaugh who subconsciously give people the idea that feminists are 'feminazis' and that everyone is really all equal, and you must be a humorless ugly person if you wish to become a feminist.
What we have to HOPE, most fervantly, is that whole lots of our problems are our fault, in your sense of the word. That is, that they are due to choices we made, and could make differently. This seems somehow to be at the heart of people's disinclination to see major failings, systematic features that need altering, even as everyone on the left is so notorious for being hyper critical. It is as if we have it absolutely 180% backwards. Instead of being so ready as we all seem always to be to find fault with one another individually, we should have much more patience and understanding and empathy at that level. And instead of being so reticent to find fault/problems with our whole overarching projects and choices, we should be far readier to discern things wrong and needing correction, at that level.
There was a post over in the DSA list forum about my and Hahnel's view of Marxism that I replied to over there. I thought I would enter it here as well...
The discussion in the list serve is about the article on marxism linked on our top page.
I can't possibly try to keep up with the DSAList posts, even that mention me, on top of everything else, but I thought I should clarify a claim that appears this time. Robert Peterson, who writes for Z, interestingly, if it is the same person, indicates that he thinks our critique in the articles being discussed is about Marxism's narrowness. Yes, part of what Hahnel and I critique in marxism, like many others, is its narrow presumption of the ultimate priority of economics as compared to the importance alongside other factors as well. But another part, and the more original and in ourview damning part of our critique, is of the inadequacy of the economic theory of marxism, itself. Indicatively, we call ourselves feminist, anarchist, and even nationalist in a way we don't call ourselves marxist because while we have the "narrowness" criticism of each of these approaches, more or less analogously, regarding marxism we also think it is fatally flawed in its own domain, unlike the others.
And ironically, we think marxism itself, in one of its best moments, explains the difference.
The other theories do represent the strivings and conceptions emerging from those at the bottom of the oppressive hierarchies in the respective domains, we think, as a liberatory framework needs to to have any hope of capturing and organizing perceptions suitably to guide liberatory practice. But not so marxism, which seems to us to represent the viewpoint of what we call the coordinator class. Marxism tells us, one of its powerful teachings we need to heed (the article, indeed, is about not throwing out the beautiful baby with the plentiful bathwater), that conceptualizations in the social realm are always abstract in the sense of leaving some things out and highlighting others -- and may even be highly subjective in the ways that facts and relations are distorted to fit interests. We urge that whatever an advocate of a viewpoint says their aims, motives, and intentions might be, someone looking on to decide whether to use the framework needs to consider carefully whether, in fact, class interests distort its results.
In this light, we over the years we have gone to considerable lengths, in a number of works, to show that just precisely this is true of Marxism. That is concepts, analyses, and vision, in many critical and fondational places, is distorted due to its being the product of and biased to serve the interests of what we call the coordinator class (those with a relative monopoly on knowledge, skills, and access bearing on controling and defining their own circumstances and those of others, traditional workers). In other words, as compared to its claim to be "the theory of the working class" our view, instead, is that "marxism is the theory of the coordinator class" in just the same sense that marxists would call neoclassical economics "the theory of the capitalist class." The article referenced i nthe discussion is rather short, and only some of this analysis of marxism appears--the purpose of the article being quite different...but more argument and evidence is found in many of our longer writings. More, even the noted article, has a list of problems we find with Marxism (before identifying the baby in the bathwater that needs to be saved but is rapidly being dispensed by even let political economists, nowadays) and I include it here to show that it goes well beyond the narrowness problem --
(1) Marxist dialectics at its best is an overly obscure methodological reminder to think holistically and historically; at its worst its a philosophically absurd drain on creativity and range of perception.
(2) Historical Materialisms main claims are denied by history. Its lesser claims are not entirely wrong, but when "real existing people" utilize the concepts of historical materialism they inexorably arrive at an economistic and mechanical view of society, systematically under-valuing and mis-understanding social relations of gender, political, cultural, and ecological origin and import.
(3) Marxist class theory has disguised the importance of the coordinator (professional-managerial or technocratic) class and its antagonisms with the working class and with capital, and has in this way long obstructed class analysis of the Soviet, Eastern European, and Third World non-capitalist economies, and of capitalism itself.
(4) Labor Theory of Value misunderstands the determination of wages, prices, and profits in capitalist economies and turns activists thought away from a needed social-relations view of capitalist exchange. The dynamics of the workplace and market are largely functions of bargaining power and social control, categories essentially ignored by the labor theory of value.
(5) Marxist crisis theory, in all its variants, distorts understanding of capitalist economies and anti-capitalist prospects by seeing intrinsic collapse where no such prospect exists and orienting activists away from the importance of their own organizing as the basis for change, that is far more promising.
(6) Regarding visions of desirable societies, Marxism is particularly obstructive. First there is Marxisms general taboo against "utopian" speculation. Second, Marxism presumes that if economic relations are desirable other social relations will fall into place. Third, Marxism is permanently confused about what constitutes an equitable distribution of income -- "from each according to ability to each according to need" is not a viable economic guide (it is utopian and curtails needed information transfer) and "from each according to work and to each according to contribution to the social product" is not a morally worthy maxim (it rewards productivity, including genetic endowment, beyond effort and sacrifice). And fourth, Marxism approves hierarchical relations of production and command planning as means of allocation.
(7) Marxisms injunctions regarding economic goals taken cumulatively amount to advocating what we call a coordinator mode of production that elevates administrators, intellectual workers, planners, etc., to ruling class status. This Marxist economic goal uses the label socialist to appeal to workers, but does not structurally implement socialist ideals (much as the political goal of bourgeois movements uses the label democratic to rally support from diverse sectors, but does not structurally implement democratic ideals).
Finally, Leninism is a natural outgrowth of Marxism employed by people in capitalist societies, and Marxism Leninism, far from being the "theory and strategy for the working class," is, instead, by its focus, concepts, values, and goals, the "theory and strategy for the coordinator (professional-managerial, technocratic ) class."
> > For me left encompasses those who reject basic institutions and hope to replace them with transformed institutions that are more just, equitable, etc. The left to me encompasses people who want to see an end to racism, sexism, authoritarian government, and capitalism. In the left, re the economy, the vast majority espouse, if anything, a "market socialist" model--that is, one that elevates the coordinator class to dominance.
> Fair enough. Though I myself do not favor such models. The key point I think is the last one--capitalism. Many (maybe even most) of the people I see working to end the other conditions you name, if their aims are largely confined to specific issues, often support capitalism, even if by default, seeing no superior alternative. Some of those people can be fairly radical in their own framework (I'd say that describes a good many gay and feminist groups in particular). Are they left?
It may be key, or first for you, but not for me. Attittude to capitalism is but one among four things I mentioned. So my answer is that yes a feminist intent upon uprooting the structures of patriarchy is left about that, and a nationalist intent on uprooting the structures of racism is left about that, and so on. Some are left across teh board.
I of course agree there are many different factors, some which you nicely decribe, that impact organizing in the West. I am not sure the bearing of that on the discussion. If we are talking about whether x is important trotting out some y and z that are also important really isn't too germane, though true, it seems to me.
What I didn't agree with in your description, however, was your passing comment about how easily communism was equated with Stalinism here, as if that was a major propaganda achievement like, say, convincing the public Hussein is a danger to them, or Nicaragua is, etc. Instead, I think it was easy to do because it was and has been the case in every instance. Thus, easy because true.
> To some extent, I think this is a chicken and egg question. We want to change the society we live in, but until some fundamental change happens first, I can't see any large-scale non-hierarchical structures in our institutions forming.
Perhaps you are right, but I can't see why. Society has many pressures, principally market forces, coercing certain types of choices leading to hierarchies, to be sure. But there is nothing inevitable about it that I can see. It seems more to the point that there isn't the will to do other things -- just as there once was no will to have anything but rather odious levels of sexual hierarchy in the left. That passed to a degree, and is still being worked on, and as a result left projects and institutions and movements are much better on that score. I see no reason the same pattern can't be followed re class.
> I have no argument against raising the issue. But I do think a good deal of the problem, indeed the vast majority, is caused by conditions external to the left. They must be addressed, yes, but I think the progress comes as the left makes more progress.
I don't buy it. Actually the larger left structures would have an easier time, I believe, introducing class justice internally than do the smaller ones....but there is no will to do it, particularly by those benefitting from the existing inequities. The Nation or MJ could do it far more easily than Z or SEP, as far as I can see, and with improvements in productivity as well as quality, I believe. Greenpeace might still be alive, had they done it. And so on.
I guess this is the nub of it. The relative weights really don't interest me, I have to say. What does interest me is what we can impact.
Our ability to impact the external depends on having stronger and more effective movements. That depends, I believe, among other things, on solving the stickiness problem, the outreach problem, each of which are substantially influenced, I believe, by the denegrating class character, as it is felt, of the left. Thus, we have to influence the factors we can influence, given our strength and size, and clearly, the first of these is ourselves and our choices of organization, etc.
> Well, I would agree to the extent that such institutions exist at all, but most such institutions, as far as I can tell, aren't very radical.
Indeed...and I am discussing reasons why that might be so.
> I think the problem lies largely with two factors: one, the amount of sacrifice and hard work it takes to work with the left, which is a hard sell unless people are really, really desperate, which most, even in the backward 90s.
Actually, folks joining the last really large movement upsurge, i the sixties, were doing so in good times, not bad.
But if the left is boring, painful, degrading, dis-empowering, etc., you are absolutely right. However, that is what I am talking about. If the left is welcoming, exciting, engaging, dignifying, and empowering, joining is something one might want to do even independently of the desire to impact social relations.
This is what we need -- I think you would agree. And the obstacles to attaining this which are within our power now to affect are precisely what I have been trying to address.
> this leads to an ease of coopting these folks, as well as an intense pressure just to be able to support oneself and one's family.
Working people relate to churches, they relate to various movements on the right -- these things meet at least some aroused and pressing needs, however incompletely. The left doesn't bother....or even disdains doing so. It doesn't work.
As far as Moore is concerned, we just disagree and I think there is no point in beating it to death...
> Agreed. I was speaking on a personal level. If I, as an individual, do not wish to rise for the anthem, and am physically threatened as a result, I am not going to feel very good toward the person who threatened me, am I?
Well I don't know you well enough to say. If your neighbor said something that you found racist and you confronted it vigrorously, or theateningly, but he thought he was just saying some off the cuff thing, how would he feel? Again, it depends. If he knows a lot about you, he would be able to see how it meant something very different for you. He might still think his usage was innocuous, and yet understand your anger. If not, then no good results...
Same goes for you. You might understand reactions to your sitting in a way that empathizes more with people, or less, and your feelings will vary in accord.
> Part of the problem, I think is this association of sports with the working class. Sure, sports is big among workers, particularly male workers.
> > I think people who work shit jobs and take crap and try to get their kids to be what they hate, and on and on, would have a still harder time if they had to say, my country tis of thee, it sucks bigtime.<
> Maybe, though it seems to me that most do exactly that, in my experience.
Not when identity is at stake. Not in public. Only when it is somehow removed from the implication that all their work is for naught. Then yes.
>But, to use Moore's example of a hockey game, my experience of Madison Square garden is that the people there are largely the more priviledged workers or members of the coordinator class. basketball, arguably the MOST popular sport among the working class, costs far too much for most workers to attend a game, or, if they do, they don't do so very often.
Absolutely. And a good left approach will address these matters, of course. To reduce costs, however...or socialize the ownership, for example.
> I speak not only from direct experience, but from a good deal of research into sports issues. So, to a great extent I think the sports-left issue is a bit of a strawman.
Well, it is something I don't have much more energy for, I will agree that much. But I don't think it is unimportant -- when understood in the larger context, rather than brought down to the level of single people.
> When I look at people's behavior I try to understand it first as a positive outgrowth, as trying to get by and make good in awful conditions, and so on...as trying to walk with a broken wing -- to use the example I placed in another post.<
> So do I. Unfortunately, natural responses that try to make the best of difficult situations often have destructive results in the long term.
Well of course. So?
>But we cannot ignore the fact that a person who works hard to inform themself is, by definition going to have a more considered opinion than others and that the reaction of those others is going to be, all too often, a simple, clipped, "I'm enbtitled to my opinion" that will end discussion then and there.
Actually, I don't think this is necessarily true and I suspect you don't either... Many people work hard to inform themselves but do so within a constrained framework due to their subjective biases (and class interests) or the narrowing effects of basic suppositions, etc. It doesn't matter how much time and energy and IQ they invest, their opinion is not getting more and more "considered" in the positive sense that you mean.
Perhaps others will pursue the rest of the issues, Mitch...
I can't keep up all the threads I am now in and simultaneously try to prod participation, etc. At some point, I have to move on.
More on Left Vision Today
> I've looked into your proposals for the future a little bit more than I had previously, sysop, and I'm afraid they seem to amount to a kind of "tyranny by committee"... a "tyranny of the majority".
I guess you will need to explain what about the system makes you think this. It is anything but.
It delivers to people power over economic choices proportionate to the degree they are affected by the economic outcomes. Rarely are decisions the purview of majority vote, therefore, in any typical sense, or at all.
What do you have in mind?
>I don't want to see people forced to do something they don't want to do
I don't know what this means. In any society people can't just do whatever strikes their fancy because the separate decisions of people need to mesh. That means everyone is sometimes doing things they don't thing best. The only way around this would be if everyone literally agreed on everything...a supposition I know you don't have.
> That's why I want to help get a coalition
> of alternative parties going that is based in local communities
> among our working class and petty bourgeois neighbors and
> build majorities that will be "enabling", not "disabling".
Fine. What's your concern about parecon? I have no idea, from your message.
Is supporting mom and pop stores a good idea at some point in time. Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But how is your view on that relevant to parecon?
And so on.
More on Left Vision Today
> I still don't see what's necessarily so bad about the system
> I'm proposing, though. I do think that having a sense of owner-
> ship, a stake, in where one lives and what one does, is important. If that takes the form of worker-owned and run large
> businesses, housing, workplace, health and consumer coopera-
> tives, and small businesses, while we otherwise have a multi-
> party democracy, what's wrong with that?
There is nothing wrong with the sentiment that people should be sincere caretakers of the resources and materials and energies that they are utilizing. I quite agree. But there are many problems with private ownership of those resources -- which vary in their impact and effects depending, in turn, upon modes of allocation and remuneration, etc. Arguing for better or ideal relations between actors and the places where they work in the absense of changes in the mechanisms by which actors have to interact with one another and make choices (markets, for example) is, well, utopian in the truest sense. It is like saying we should have monarchies, but everyone should pay close and respectful attention to the circumstances of others and each should impact decisions in the right proportions, say.
Suppose nuclear families, male mothering and female fathering, AND our school systems contribute mightily to the generation and perpetuation of sexism. Suppose indeed, that each of these three is alone necessary and sufficient to impose sexism on us. The proposal that we eliminate sexism by changing the schools would, in that instance, be very well motivated, and could be part of a broader proces, but alone would be utopian and lead only to changes later unchanged. I hope I am not complicating things by the analogy.
Rewarding private ownership has no ethical or efficiency merits, compared to alternative options that capture the caretaking sentiment you are expressing -- even if there is some way -- and history and logic suggests there isn't -- to limit the scale of such ownership.
When you look at our current society and think, wouldn't it be better, however, if the businesses were smaller and the workers owned them -- by all means, especially the latter point--not least because it could be part of a broader process aiming at wider ends, as well. Because it would be better still if the norms by which it operates and by which decisions are made were altered, as well.
I can't comment much more on your specific proposal, because I am not at all sure as to what it includes and I don't want to misrepresent. However, now that you have moved from barely looking at to skimming the parecon model and its logic -- perhaps you would like to take a closer read. For that matter, you may find a good deal relevant to your thinking on economic aims in the ten lectures on developing economic vision that are also online. They begin by discussing current economy and frequent proposals for improvement -- including, I think, some that you have in mind.
Politics and Music (a side issue)
I would be surprised if you got such a reception. More likely, in most places, folks would love to hear you play, I think... One summer at ZMI we have a very talented pianist. Folks loved to listen. He did, indeed, spend time talking with me about his future. Should he go into music and become a noted pianist (apparently that was quite likely) or should he scrap it and devote himself to political work?
I only offered that I thought both avenues were perfectly sensible, depending on his preferences, what it would do to his life and spirits, and so on. Making life choices that are completely incompatible with one's disposition is in general a good way to become dysfunctional. On the other hand, we don't always have to follow the course we would prefer in a moral and just world, either.
Obviously it would be wrong for even one person, much less an entire movement, to respond to you as you indicate.
If the left as a whole dismisses country music, that's a real issue to think about, it seems to me. In fact, if the left as a whole dismisses much of anything artistic, that would be something to think about. That an individual in the left, or everybody in it for that matter, likes classical or country, is not an issue.
There are leftists who think anything that isn't directly connected to trying to uproot evil by its horns (or even particular evils) isn't worth anything--is some kind of immoral distraction. I think I noted once that in the sixties for one sect this even extended to sex. Makes you wonder what people who judge thinks thusly would do with their lives if they ever won and had no evils to fight.
Socialist realism was, in my opinion, a horrible notion...the above run wild.
The Nation has a classical music reviewer, I believe, which seems quite reasonable to me. Z dossn't. That's reasonable too.
Music like everything, however, has political aspects.
Symphony orchestras are often culturally upper class, in attendence, the general ambiance of the events, required dress, and so on, but not because the music is intrinsically so...of course.
I don't know a lot about classical -- I happen to like some things -- the usual for the uninitiated: the b's and mozart, plus some more. Means zip to me politically.
I took your post as an opportunity to wax on -- now, to wax off...
Sports, Class, etc. etc.
> He said sports helps to instill submissiveness to authority in people. It teaches them to take orders without questioning, etc. And to be passive, I believe.
I don't know whether noam or anyone else said this... I don't know how anyone would know this, and I doubt it is the case, remotely as much, for example, as education has these effects, or work more generally.
That is, I bet the nuclear family is worse on these scores than little league, the class courses are worse than gym, typical jobs are worse than professional sports, and so on --- much less participation in unorganized sports.
As to being a fan...I doubt being a sports fan is any worse than any other kind of audience appreciation, so to speak -- and, in any event, as noted earlier, the time and energy given to it are not just or even primarily a function of some kind of addictiveness of being a fan, or of pressure or trickery getting folks to do it, but of the absense of alterantives.
> Barbara Ehrenreich has an interesting essay on the SuperBowl in the current issue of Time (with Castro on the cover).
I haven't seen it yet... I will take a look.
But since Noam and Barbara are both on here, they can be asked their opinions directly.
> Moore's statements seem like an unfair generalization to me.
And they may be, logically. Just as statements that the left was white in 1968, or male -- or more to the point, racist and sexist internally -- may have been, but weren't. Generalizations have exceptions, and having exceptions doesn't invalidate them.
> I don't think Moore is saying anything about coordinators. He's talking about PC, holier than thou lefties.
What is a pc holier than thou lefty? Again, I don't want to talk about another person's thoughts... but we disagree.
> > Can leftists have critiques of the political economy of sports and be non antagonistic toward sports fans, and percieved by sports fans as non antagonistic? For sure, Yep. But, it isn't easy. Can someone even have a critique even of being a fan and yet not be percieved by fans as antagonistic to them, feeling superior to them. Yes, it is possible, but again not easy.
> All I've been saying is that it's better to make these uneasy moves than to sit silent on difficult issues just because you
fear you might alienate someone.
Which is simply a non-sequitor in the discussion. Just as, to have gotten involved in wondering about how to react to homophobia in the black community or anti-semitism or whatever else, in response to commentary that the left was white in its assumptions and manner, etc., wouldn't have been to the point.
Having said that, it is not always better to attack an issue in a manner that has negative effects way beyond any gains from the attack, than it is to lay back and find a better way. And so on. There are no iron rules of behavior.
But, I have now said I don't know how many times that the issue isn't a person liking or disliking sports or country music or anything else per se, it is what this stems from and represents and says to other people when it is across the board, or nearly so.
I think we are all going in circles now, a bit, and need to find other angles to come at all this from, if we are to make progress.
> > BUT what is simply lost every time I say it is that it is the WHOLE OVERALL situation that is in question...and it is that which makes each element of the situation an affront.
> I don't understand this last sentence.
Suppose you have a movement and come upon an individual in it that doesn't like carrots. Nothing to even notice, as far as the movement is concerned. Now you have another movement and 80% or 90% of it doesn't like carrots, the tenor of the movement, its tone, is anti-carrot. Perhaps even critical of people who eat carrots. Very different. Now there must be some kind of explanation running deeper than what ought to be just the distribution of personal taste bud reactions. (Substitute grapes or another boycotted item, and you see this isn't entirely fanciful.)
The same goes regarding any other colletively shared preference. If the movement per se has overarching attributes, or its various institutions and projects do, not 100% but largely so, there are going to be explanations that transcend individuals. What might they be? Well, the movement is antiimperilaist, let's say, and the explanation is shared values and perceptions of the focused reality that runs counter to those values.
Ditto for anything else, roughly speaking.
So we next encounter the question what value, what perceptions?
It doesn't arise for an individual, it does for a collectivity.
I am making this abstract, but you can see where it goes ---
When the movement has a shared reaction, largely, it is likely due to an objective perception of reality, shared across the movement, clashing with the movements shared and worthy values. But it could also be, for example, that the movement's members share values or perceptions that come, instead, not from their explicit radical movement allegiances, but from their subjective interests (class, race, gender, or otherwise).
This is essentially what is being discussed. Are some of the mannerism and beliefs and styles and programmatic assumptions that thread through our movements -- perhaps lots, even -- there due to coordinator class allegience or identification, particularly at the top of our movements and structures?
Let me give you another kind of example. Do you remember the No Nukes movement? Passionate activists trying to shut down reactors and end the committment to fission power, etc.?
I knew a lot of working people, at the time, who found it abhorrent. something they would never even remotely conceive of being involved with, EVEN THOUGH they might agree about the reactors, in the quiet of a living room. Why? There were a lot of reasons, I think, but here is one.
I nearly never heard that movement or almost any of its organizers even mention, much less take really seriously, the ill effects of coal mining. Tremendous energies went into arguing the impact of nukes on folks, but there was almost never any look at the incidence of coal mining accidents and black lung -- or any comparison. Why? Well, on many things and in many ways I admired and liked the no nukers, and at some level I was one, but I honestly do think that it had to do with class assumptions and ways of approaching the issues.
> What, you want me to be self-critical? I can do that. Yo, Mr. Ellipses, why don't you just come out and say it? I don't get what you're saying. All I'm putting forward is the simple idea that people should be free to criticize other peoples' activities.
But who in their right mind would argue with such a proposition? No one. And no one has. You and others are taking that proposition, a fair enough one, and somehow saying that it comes into conflict with what others are saying when they, in fact, are doing just what the proposition says -- criticizing not just individuals, but whole movements.
Again, I think we ought to try to find some new way into these topics, if we are going to make progress with them.
>I don't get your point. Dylan's targeting the guy who's obsessed with the hat. So what?
No, Dylan is going after the wearer, to be sure...for her grossly bourgeois tastes.